Dathan Ritzenhein en route to national cross country title No. 3 (© Kirby Lee)
World junior steeplechase champion Ruth Jebet and African 5000m bronze medallist Janet Kisa lead a strong women’s line-up at Campaccio in San Giorgio su Legnano on 6 January, the first IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting of 2015.
After winning the world junior title in Eugene, 18-year-old Jebet clocked a PB of 9:20.55 at the IAAF Diamond League final in Zurich and went on to win the Asian Games title in Inchon. More recently, the Bahraini athlete finished second over 10km in Houilles in late December, clocking a PB of 32:18.
Kisa also had a breakthrough season in 2014. The 22-year-old Kenyan took the 5000m silver medal at the Commonwealth Games and smashed her 3000m best with 8:32.66 at the IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels.
She showed impressive form by winning the Boclassic 10km road race on 31 December, beating compatriot Peres Jepchirchir by just one second in a dramatic final sprint. Kisa and Jepchirchir will renew their battle on Tuesday afternoon in San Giorgio su Legnano. Jepchirchir, who is a 1:09:12 half-marathon performer, showed her recent good shape by winning in Houilles on 28 December when she comfortably defeated Jebet.
Another emerging Kenyan star who could fight for the podium is Betsy Saina. The 2013 NCAA 10,000m champion set numerous PBs in 2014 at all distances from 3000m to the half marathon. The best of those was her world-leading 30:46 over 10km in September. Tuesday’s race will be her first cross-country outing in Europe.
“Many people told me about the glorious history of the Campaccio,” said Saina. “I’m glad to be invited to compete in this famous race. I hope the Campaccio will be the stepping stone to a good 2015 season. I will compete in one more cross-country race before focusing on the indoor season.”
Italian fans will have plenty to cheer for, as rising middle-distance talent Federica Del Buono will be in the race. Del Buono, who at the age of 19 finished fifth in the 1500m at the European Championships, looks to be following in the footsteps of her parents, both of whom were international athletes. Her father Gianni was the European indoor bronze medallist in 1971 and held the Italian 5000m record.
After finishing second in the junior race of the Campaccio in 2012, Del Buono will use this race as preparation for the European Indoor Championships in Prague, where she is expected to run the 3000m.
“I cannot miss the chance to run such a high-level cross country race on home soil,” she said. “I need to learn about cross country. A good winter season is essential for a good summer. I will run at the European Indoor Championships in Prague but my real targets are the European Under-23 Championships in Tallin and the IAAF World Championships in Beijing.”
The line-up also features Belgium’s Almensh Belete, who finished fourth at the recent European Cross Country Championships, and 2008 world junior cross-country silver medallist Irene Cheptai, who finished 10th at the 2013 World Cross Country Championships.
Nicole Svetlana Reina, who finished fifth in the steeplechase at the 2013 World Youth Championships and fourth at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games, will start as favourite in the junior women’s race.
Cheptegei faces tough test
Another world junior champion, Joshua Cheptegei, will headline the men’s race. The young Ugandan, who won the 10,000m in Eugene, will try to continue Campaccio’s tradition of launching new running stars.
Dathan Ritzenhein, the 2001 world junior cross-country bronze medallist and 2009 world half-marathon bronze medallist, will lead the US challenge. The three-time US cross-country champion has PBs of 12:56.27 for 5000m and 2:07:47 for the marathon, making him one of the all-round fastest men in the field.
Daniele Meucci and Andrea Lalli will face the difficult task of becoming the first Italian runners to win the Campaccio since Francesco Panetta’s triumph in 1993.
This will be Meuci’s second race on Italian soil since winning the European marathon title in Zurich, where he completed his set of medals at the championships following his bronze medal in 2010 and silver medal in 2012, both over 10,000m.
“I am in full training for my next marathon in Otsu (1 March) where I am aiming to improve my marathon personal best,” said Meucci, who will soon head to Eritrea for a four-week training stint. “My personal goal for 2015 is to finish my doctorate in robotic engineering.”
Lalli will return to San Giorgio su Legnano, the venue of his first of three gold medals at the European Cross Country Championships. Like Meucci, Lalli has now moved up to the marathon and recently improved his PB for the distance to 2:12:48.
Other notable athletes in the field include Poland’s European steeplechase silver medallist Krysztian Zalewski and Canada’s world 10,000m finalist Mo Ahmed.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF