Andrea Lalli wins the senior men's title at the European Cross Country Championships (Mark Shearman) © Copyright
Preview San Giorgio su Legnano, Italy

Can Lalli or Meucci end Italy’s 27-year barren streak at Campaccio?

Italian distance running stars Andrea Lalli and Daniele Meucci will be in the spotlight on home soil at the famous Campaccio Cross Country race, an IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting, this coming Sunday (6).

The last domestic winner in the northern Italian town of San Giorgio su Legnano, on the outskirts of Milan, was the former 3000m Steeplechase world champion Francesco Panetta, who took the honours in 1986. It will be an admittedly tough task for Lalli and Meucci to end that barren streak and come out on top in the 10km race but both men have shown the form in the last month which suggests it’s certainly not impossible

However, the Italian pair faces a very strong African contingent led by the Kenyan quartet of Paul Kipsiele Koech, Leonard Komon, Thomas Longosiwa and Geoffrey Kirui; along with Uganda’s Moses Kipsiro and Ethiopia’s Muktar Edris.

Lalli grabbed the headlines on 9 December when he dominated the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Hungary, winning the gold medal with his aggressive gun-to-tape tactics to become the first runner to win the continental cross country title in all three different age categories.

Coincidently, San Giorgio su Legnano is where this hat trick began, when he won the European junior title in 2006, he has been a crowd favourite ever since.

Along with Lalli’s victory four weeks ago, the  Italian team completed a successful day at the European Cross Country Championships with the 2012 European Athletics Championships 10000m silver medallist  Meucci getting a bronze medal, which helped  Italy finish third in the team contest.

On 31 December, 2012 came to a very satisfactory end for Meucci as he won the We Run Rome 10km road race in the Italian capital, in which Lalli finished third.

The turning point in Lalli’s career was his choice to spend long training periods in Kenya to train with Kenyan runners in Iten and he has followed the same recipe for success in the last 12 months.

“Life in Iten is calm and relaxed. I spent a period in October at Gianni Demadonna’s training camp in Iten to prepare the European Championships. Kenya has become a second home for me.

“I have been training regularly there for two years. There, I have everything I need: strong Kenyan training partners and ideal training conditions at 2400 metres of altitude. I have very good friends in Kenya,” commented Lalli recently.

Kenyan challengers

Lalli will face some familiar faces from his stints in Kenya on Sunday, not least Paul Kipsiele Koech.

The 2004 Olympic Games 3000m Steeplechase bronze medallist enjoyed a successful 2012 season when he clocked the third fastest time ever over the barriers with 7:54.31 at the Rome Samsung Diamond League meeting. He won the Diamond Race in his discipline thanks to other wins in Doha (with 7:56.58), Paris and Lausanne.

Kenya will be also represented by Leonard Komon, the world record holder over 10km and 15 km on the road. He knows the Campaccio course very well as he finished second in 2011. Showing he’s also in good form, Komon won the New Year’s Eve road race in Peuerbach, Austria, on Monday.

Thomas Longosiwa, the 2012 Olympic Games 5000m bronze medallist also improved his personal best over the distance to 12:49.04 in the 5000m in the fast Paris Diamond League race this summer. However, Longosiwa was ill last weekend and dropped out of the famous Boclassic race 10km road race in Bolzano on New Year’s Eve after one lap and so Sunday’s outing will be a test to see how well he has recovered.

Edris was the 2012 World Junior Championships 5000m gold medallist and 2012 African cross country junior champion, and was only narrowly beaten by the reigning World Cross Country champion Imane Merga in Bolzano earlier this week.

Kipsiro, a two-time IAAF World Cross Country Championships  medallist, who was second in 2009 and third in 2010, and the prodigious 19-year-old Kirui, who clocked a very impressive 26:55.73 over 10000m at the Brussels Diamond League meeting in September, will be accompanied by the US runner Scott Bauhs, who  finished fourth in Bolzano.

Kenyan steeplechaser Milcah Chemos, the 2009 and 2011 World Championships 3000m Steeplechase bronze medallist leads a women's field which also includes Kenya’s Priscah Cherono, the 2007 World Championships 5000m bronze medallist, and Ethiopia's Afera Godfay, who was second in Bolzano on Monday evening.

Local interest in the 6km women's race is provided by Elena Romagnolo, a two-time Olympic Games finalist, and Silvia Weissteiner, who showed her recent good form when she finished fourth in the Boclassic in Bolzano.

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF