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

Cross country star Andrea Lalli finally to make his Marathon debut in Venice

Italy’s own reigning European cross country champion Andrea Lalli will be the man in the spotlight at the 28th edition of the Venice Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, on Sunday (27).

Venice will mark the much-awaited debut over the Marathon distance for Lalli after a very successful career at cross country, at least on the continental stage, highlighted by a triple European crown with wins in all age categories - junior in 2006, under 23 in 2008 and senior last December. He is the only runner so far to achieve such a feat.

Lalli is ready to make his debut after an injury problem forced him to miss the Rome Marathon last spring and he is looking to test his ability over the classic distance as a first step towards next summer’s European Athletics Championships in Zurich.

He made his Half Marathon debut at the 2011 Stramilano race, clocking 1:02:02, which he later improved to his current personal best of 1:01:11. Last month, he finished seventh at the Udine Half Marathon in 1:02:30.

“I have postponed my debut several times. I wanted to run my first marathon before (the 2012 European Cross Country Championships in) Budapest but I got an injury problem. Then I picked another injury three weeks before Rome,” commented Lalli.

“I have trained very hard in the last month without problems and the time recorded at the Udine Half Marathon is an important result for me. I am ready for Venice and I consider Venice the start of my second career. I will have to see how I will manage to the 42 km distance.

“I am sorry that (Italian Marathon runner) Ruggero Pertile) will miss the race. He is a very experience athlete and it would have been helpful to run against him because I was planning to run at his pace. I want to enjoy the race without pressure. I don’t know the course but I am not afraid of the bridges (over Venice’s famous canals) as I like running over this kind of courses.

“I know many Kenyan rivals I will face on Sunday because I train with them in Kenya. Some of them will be making their debut, others already experience over the distance. They can be unpredictable. After Venice, I will run a spring Marathon before the European Championships in Zurich.I have not decided yet if I will run at the European Cross Country Championships in Belgrade. It depends on how I will recover from Venice,” he added.

Unfortunately, the  all-Italian clash between Lalli and Pertile, who was fourth in the 2010 European Athletics Championships, will not take place as the latter has been sidelined by a right foot injury.

However, instead, Lalli will face a tough opposition from a contingent of Kenyan and Ethiopian runners

Masai ready to make his mark at the Marathon

The top foreign name is Titus Kwemoi Masai, who finished runner-up last year in Venice on his debut at the event in very difficult weather conditions with a lot of rain and wind.

Masai has not run another Marathon since but with a set of impressive Half Marathon times to his name, including a personal best of 59:51, he can surely improve on the modest 2:18:20 he ran 12 months ago.

His compatriot Daniel Kinyua Wanjiru  finished sixth in the Udine Half Marathon ahead of Lalli and will make his Marathon debut in Venice.

Ethiopia will be represented by Abdi Kidane Gemechu, who finished third in Venice in 2008.

The women’s race should feature a battle between Ethiopia’s Halima Hassen Beriso and Kenya’s Mercy Kibarus. Neither woman has broken 2:30 in their careers but their performances over shorter distances suggest it is well within their ability.

More than 7000 runners will take part in this unique race run over a fascinating but challenging course from Villa Pisani in Stra to the embankment named Riva Sette Martiri in the heart of Venice.

After snaking along the Brenta Riviera, the course reaches the centre of Marghera and Mestre before crossing the St Giuliano’s Park. Runners run across the Ponte della Liberta before reaching the port area where they have to run across no less than 13 bridges, and the course also passes by Piazza San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale before reaching the finish line.

Among the participants this year is former Formula 1 driver and Paralympic champion Alex Zanardi, who will take part in either the wheelchair or the handbike event depending on his level of training.

In addition to the Marathon there are three shorter runs which will attract about 15000 participants. Various Italian sport stars like 2004 Olympic Games Marathon champion and current Italian federation junior and youth technical director Stefano Baldini, canoe slalom Olympic champion Daniele Molmenti and London 2012 Paralympic Games 100m champion Martina Caironi are expected to take part in these supporting events.

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF