Edwin Soi holds off Wilson Kiprop to collect his fourth Bolzano victory (© BOclassic/Mosna)
San Giorgio su Legnano, Italy - The Campaccio International Cross Country race will celebrate its 55th anniversary on Friday (6) by joining the IAAF Cross Country Permit circuit for the first time in its glorious history.
This edition of the Campaccio in San Giorgio su Legnano is the highlight of a series of initiatives to mark the 90th anniversary of the local sports club Unione Sportiva Sangiorgese which not only organizes the Campaccio every year but also runs different sports sections which range from different sport disciplines such as athletics, basketball, volleyball, cycling. A special exhibition to mark this anniversary showing fascinating pictures of the most memorable highlights of the Sangiorgese club is currently on display in Legnano, about 10 km far from Milan.
San Giorgio su Legnano, a small town of 6700 inhabitants, was in the spotlight in December 2006 when it staged a successful edition of the European Cross Country Championships which marked the 50th edition of the Campaccio.
This year’s Campaccio will certainly live up to the proud history of this Northern Italian race as it features two of the three runners who reached the podium at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria: Imane Merga (gold) and Vincent Chepkok (bronze) plus in-form Edwin Soi, who won the Corrida of Houilles near Paris and the star-studded Boclassic in Bolzano on New Year’s Eve.
World Cross Country champion Imane Merga won the Samsung Diamond League in the 5000m for the second year in a row in 2011, finished third in the 10,000m at the World Championships in Daegu and clocked 12:54.21 in the 5000metres when he won in Rome and a new 10,000m PB of 26:48.35 in Eugene. The 23-year-old Ethiopian kicked off the current Cross Country season with a narrow win over Kidane Tadese in Atapuerca in the first 2011/2012 IAAF Cross Country Permit race last November. In that race World Cross Country bronze medallist Chepkok finished fourth.
Chepkok, who enjoyed a solid track season with a 2011 best time of 12:55.29 in the 5000m in Rome and a win in the Lausanne Diamond League meeting, claimed first place in another IAAF Cross Country race in Soria on 20th November.
Merga will be looking to following in the footsteps of his illustrious compatriots who won the past editions of the Campaccio: Haile Gebrselassie (1994), Fita Bayesa (1995) and Kenenisa Bekele (2002 and 2004).
Soi is in top shape after winning in Houilles and Bolzano and will be looking to claim his second win in San Giorgio su Legnano where he took the honours in 2008 and then went on to win the Olympic bronze medal at 5000m in Beijing later that year. The 2012 Campaccio will be a re-match of the Boclassic where Soi beat Merga who carried a minor foot injury and had to settle for third place.
Soi, who won the African 5000m title in Nairobi in 2010, also finished fifth in San Giorgio su Legnano in 2009. In the last track season he clocked 7:27.55 in the 3000m finishing second in Doha and 12:59.15 winning the 5000m in Hengelo.
José Rocha from Portugal, bronze medallist at the European Cross Country Championships, will carry the major European hopes.
The Italian challenge is led by Stefano La Rosa, who won the 5000m national title and bronze at the World University Games in Shenzhen before capping a successful 2011 season with a good sixth place at the Boclassic race. Another top Italian runner in the field is Cross Country veteran Gabriele De Nard, fourth at the 2001 European Cross Country Championships; he took part in 14 editions of the continenatal Championships becoming the second athlete with most appearances in this event behind Sergiy Lebid.
Italian fans are still waiting for an Italian win at the Campaccio. The last local winner was Francesco Panetta who claimed top honours in 1993 ahead of Jonah Koech and Richard Chelimo before African domination began the following year with the Ethiopian legend Gebrselassie who added his name to the glorious Campaccio list of honours in 1994. Considering the fabulous 2012 line-up local fans will have to wait another year and probably many years to come before another Italian claims the top of the podium in San Giorgio.
Cherono, Kibet and Adamu the favourites - women’s race
The women’s race will be one of the best in recent years with Kenyans Mercy Cherono and Sylvia Kibet and Ethiopian Birtukan Adamu.
Cherono enjoyed an impressive youth and junior career winning the World junior Cross Country title in Bydsgosz 2010, two World junior titles in the 3000m in 2008 and 2010, a World junior silver in the 5000m in 2010 and a World youth gold in the 3000m in 2007. During the last track season she finished fifth in the Daegu World Championships final where Sylvia Kibet won the silver medal taking her second consecutive world silver medal. Cherono and Kibet will renew their battle in San Giorgio su Legnano on Friday.
The Kenyan duo will take on Birtukan Adamu who won the World junior silver medal in the 3000m Steeplechase and broke the World junior record over this distance clocking 9:20.37 at Rome’s Golden Gala last May.
Silvia Weissteiner, European Indoor 3000m bronze medallist in 2007 and World Championships seventh placer in the 5000m in 2009, will carry the major Italian hopes especially after her convincing third place at the Bolzano Boclassic last Saturday.
The other top Italian runners in the field are 3000m Steeplechase Olympic finalist and national record holder Elena Romagnolo and Cross Country specialist Federica Dal Ri. Romagnolo and and Dal Ri have a proud record in the most recent editions of the Campaccio race: Romagnolo finished third in 2008 and second in 2009 and 2010 and Dal Ri took third place in 2009 and 2010.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF