Kenya's Edwin Soi, the Olympic 5000m bronze medallist, was another big name added to the honour roll of the Memorial Peppe Greco, the famous 10Km loop race held Saturday (27) in Scicli, Sicily.
Soi beat a pair of Olympic Marathon champions: the reigning one Samuel Wanjiru, who was the runner-up, and the former one Stefano Baldini, the crowd favourite, who closed in fifth.
Soi followed the consecutive victory by his compatriot Martin Lel. Haile Gebrselassie won four consecutive years from 1995 to 1998, Paul Tergat won in 1994 and 1999, while Kenenisa Bekele, Charles Kamathi, Hailu Mekonnen, and Sileshi Sihine are among the previous winners of the Memorial, created by Giovanni Voi in 1990.
Soi beats the slippery cobblestone
The usual difficult course, comprised of 10 one-kilometre laps with a 300m uphill stretch over stones, was even tougher because of the rain that fell during the day, making it quite slippery.
That's probably why the race didn't start as fast as one would expect where you have Wanjiru in the field. Gebrselassie's 28:22 course record was never in danger, as the pack passed through halfway in 14:40.
Just at that point the race exploded, when Soi, Wanjiru and another Kenyan Wilson Kebenei Kiprotich dropped the other six athletes that had remained in pack.
During the seventh lap Kiprotich was dropped, while behind him Uganda's Moses Aliwa and Baldini struggled for the fourth place.
Wanjiru seemed not so brilliant as in Beijing and Soi kept pushing in the front. The Olympic champion lost some metres just at the beginning of the last lap. Soi flew it in a fast 2:45 and closed with a time of 28:57 and a strong negative split. Wanjiru slowed down in the final stages and passed through the finish line 12 seconds behind the winner, followed by Kebenei.
Baldini was not able to beat Aliwa and his fifth place was the same as a year ago. He won the Memorial Peppe Greco in 2005.
The big surprise was another home runner Salvatore Vincenti, born in Sicily. Vincenti is known for his strong kick and showed it, out-sprinting Uganda's Martin Toroitich and Kenya's Felix Limo, one of the best Marathon runners of last years.
Wanjiru - "I made a mistake"
"Today I was the number one," Soi said after the race. "I tried to push to drop Samuel and I got it". Now he is going to take some rest after a very long season. "I will not run for three weeks, then come back to training for cross country." His debut will be at the famous Campaccio in San Giorgio su Legnano.
Wanjiru was not disappointed, as just one month after the Olympic Marathon he probably can't do something better. "However I made a mistake," he admitted. "I should have kept a fast pace from the beginning, because I know that Edwin has a strong kick."
The Kenyan will not take part in the World Half Marathon Championships in Rio de Janeiro, citing fatigue. "I'm thinking about next year, my first goal will be the London Marathon." In London last April he was 2nd behind Lel with a stunning PB 2:05:24.
"I couldn't do more than this, I'm still tired for the Marathon in Beijing," Baldini said. However, the crowd applauded him very much as usual and the mayor of Scicli, Giovanni Venticinque, said that they would like to give him am honorary citizenship.
Alberto Zorzi for the IAAF
Men's race (10km):
1. Edwin Soi, KEN, 28:57
2. Samuel Wanjiru, KEN, 29:09
3. Wilson Kiprotich, KEN, 29:22
4. Moses Aliwa, UGA, 29:41
5. Stefano Baldini, ITA, 29:46
6. Salvatore Vincenti, ITA, 29:50
7. Martin Toroitich, UGA, 29:51
8. Felix Limo, KEN, 29:53
9. Richard Sigei, KEN, 30:30
10. Ottavio Andriani, ITA, 31:13