Albert Rop takes the men's race at Campaccio (© Giancarlo Colombo)
The 59th edition of Campaccio, the first IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting of 2016, will feature an impressive men’s field including 2014 Campaccio winner Albert Rop, Olympic 5000m bronze medallist Thomas Longosiwa, 2011 world cross-country champion Imane Merga and his Ethiopian compatriot Yasin Haji on Wednesday (6).
Rop ran the second fastest 5000m time in the world in 2013, clocking 12:51.96 in Monaco. The following winter, the Bahraini runner won the Campaccio race in the Italian town of San Giorgio su Legnano and beat Japhet Korir and Merga. He finished 11th at the IAAF Cross Country Championships Guiyang 2015 last March.
Kenya's Longosiwa is an infrequent cross-country runner but has fond memories of Italian races. He won at the 2011 Vallagarina and the 2012 Cinque Mulini races.
Merga won the world cross-country title in 2011 and the silver medal two years later. The experienced Ethiopian star finished fourth in 2012 and third in 2014 in his previous two appearances in San Giorgio su Legnano. More recently, he finished third at the Boclassic 10km road race in Bolzano on 31 December.
Haji, who doesn’t turn 20 until later this month, claimed the junior men’s crown in Guiyang last year and is the world junior 5000m silver medallist.
Uganda’s 20-year-old Abdellah Kibet Mande, who took third place at the 10km Corrida de Houilles on 27 December, is also in the field.
Italy’s two-time European junior cross-country champion Yemaneberhan Crippa will run his first race as a senior on home soil.
“The second gold medal (won in the French town of Hyeres last month) was better than the first," said Crippa. "I wanted to show that the title I won in 2014 in Samokov was not just a fluke and that I can perform well on all kind of courses.
“The last time I went to Ethiopia in 2008 I could not speak the Amharic language but I will never forget my origins. In the future I would like to return to Ethiopia to build a school or a hospital. After my win in Hyeres my (adoptive) father gave me the Italian and the Ethiopian flags to celebrate my win. This was the first time he travelled abroad to watch me running. It was a very special moment.
“This will be my first race as a senior," he added. "It will not be easy but at Campaccio I want to finish in the top 10."
Other Italian runners to watch are Stefano La Rosa, who ran 2:11:10 at the Amsterdam Marathon last October, and Giuseppe Gerratana, who won the 2013 European under-23 3000m steeplechase silver medal.
Kenyan trio Linet Masai, Mercy Cherono, and Virginia Nyambura, Ethiopia’s Sofia Assefa and Bahrain’s Ruth Jebet are the principal names to look out for in the women’s race.
Masai, four times a world cross-country silver medallist, has shown good form this winter when winning two top Spanish cross-country races in Soria and Alcobendas. She returned to Spain to win the San Silvestre Vallecana 10km road race through Madrid on New Year’s Eve.
In contrast to Masai, Cherono will have her first international race since September.
In addition to her noted track pedigree, which includes a 2013 World Championships 5000m silver medal and fifth-place finishes over the same distance at the 2011 and 2015 World Championships, she was the 2010 world junior cross-country champion. She also won the Campaccio race back in 2012.
Nyambura was last summer's big surprise in the 3000m steeplechase, starting the year having been recruited as a pacemaker for the opening IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha and ending it as the Diamond Race winner.
However, she has only competed in two low-key international cross-country races before, both in 2014, so will be very much going into new territory.
It will be interesting as well to see how Assefa, who is also best known as a steeplechaser and has bronze medals from the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World Championships, performs on Wednesday.
She concentrated solely on the track during 2014 and 2015 and Campaccio will be her first international cross-country race for more than two years.
Jebet, still only 19, is also a renowned steeplechaser. She won the 2014 world junior 3000m steeplechase title and set an Asian record of 9:20.55 in Zurich later that summer. She finished ninth in the junior women's race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Guiyang 2015.
Another top name will be Kenya’s All Africa Games 10,000m champion Alice Aprot, who won the Silvesterlauf race in Peuerbach, Austria, last week.
The leading domestic runners include Sara Dossena, an international triathlete who finished eighth in San Giorgio su Legnano last year, Veronica Inglese, Silvia La Barbera, Sara Galimberti and Valeria Roffino.
The men will run over approximately 10km while the women’s race is over 6km, with the main circuit being a flat but winding 2km lap in the Centro Sportivo Comunale A Alberti.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF