Ethiopia claimed a winning double with 18-year-old Muktar Edris and Debele Degefa who triumphed at the 56th edition of the Campaccio race, an IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting which was held on an unseasonably warm day in San Giorgio su Legnano with temperatures around 12°C.
Edris, the 2012 World junior 5000m champion, edged Kenyans John Kipkoech and Geoffrey Kirui in a close finish where the top three finishers shared the same time of 28:42, one second ahead of Uganda’s Moses Kipsiro.
The women’s 6km race was just as exciting as Degefa held off team-mate Afera Godfay in the final sprint as they both crossed the line in 19:26. Veronica Nyaruai from Kenya finished third in 19:34, two seconds ahead of USA’s Kim Conley, while Silvia Weissteiner was the first Italian runner in seventh (20:22).
Strong sprint finish gives Edris the victory
Reigning European cross-country champion Andrea Lalli was in the spotlight at the venue where he first came to the fore on the international stage when he won the European junior cross-country title in 2006. The Italian cross-country star adopted the same front-running tactic which helped him to win gold last month in Budapest.
Lalli led in the early stages of the race followed by Muktar Edris, European cross-country bronze medallist Daniele Meucci, USA’s Scott Bauhs, Kenyan pair Hosea Nailel and Geoffrey Kirui, and Uganda’s Moses Kipsiro.
The African runners chose a more conservative approach and ran in the middle of the pack until the second of five laps. Lalli ran in the front until halfway ahead of a big group formed by ten athletes, going through 5km in 14:37.
But not quite in the same shape he was when he won the European title last month, Lalli’s front-running tactic took its toll and he lost ground when Meucci and Kirui began to push the pace
With 4km to go, Meucci went to the lead closely followed by Kirui, the 2012 World junior 10,000m bronze medallist and sub-27-minute performer. The leading group was whittled down to seven men – 12:49 5000m man John Kipkoech, Edris, Berhanu Legesse, Nailel and Leonard Komon – as Lalli was finally dropped.
At the bell, Kipsiro hit the front and was chased by Kirui, Legesse, Kipkoech and Edris. Meucci was finally dropped as five men fought it out for the win on the final lap.
The race was decided in a dramatic sprint over the final 200m with five runners still in contention. Edris, fourth with 150m to go, launched his devastating kick and came off the final bend in the lead to romp home first in 28:42 in a breath-taking finish.
After a close runner-up place behind World cross-country champion Imane Merga at the Boclassic in Bolzano, Edris underlined his recent good run of form.
“The conditions were ideal,” said Edris. “I did not expect such warm weather, I thought it would be cold.”
Degefa wins close Ethiopian duel
In the women’s 6km race, a lead pack which included Debele Degefa, Afera Godfay, two-time World steeplechase bronze medallist Milcah Chemos, fellow Kenyan steeplechaser Veronica Nyaruai, US Olympian Kim Conley and Ethiopian teenagers Tizita Bogale and Gerezine Gebremariam went through the first kilometre in 3:25.
After a conservative start the race really heated up when Degefa, Nyaruai, Godfay, Conley, Bogale and Chemos opened up a gap from the rest of the field, passing half way in 10:04. Silvia Weissteiner and Fatna Maraoui were the only Italian runners who tried to keep up with the pace of the leaders.
Four women – Degefa, Godfay, Nyaruai and Conley – produced a decisive surge and broke away at the 4km mark, which they passed in 13:12. Gebremariam and Chemos led the chasing group 12 seconds behind.
At 5km, Degefa and Godfay built up a three-second gap over Nyaruai and Conley. The two Ethiopian leaders were neck-and-neck over the final lap. Degefa edged into the lead but Godfay followed closely behind for most of the last lap until the final 300m when they took to the ‘Angelo Alberti’ athletics track. The race went down to the final sprint where Degefa edged out Godfay by a very narrow margin.
It was Degefa’s third race in Europe, having finished third last week behind Godfay at the Boclassic 5km road race in Bolzano.
The Campaccio event, the traditional curtain-raiser to the Italian athletics season, featured a series of youth and masters competitions which attracted no less than 1400 runners of all ages. The youth races were won by Yemaneberhan Crippa, an Italian runner of Ethiopian origin who took part at the European Cross Country Championships in Budapest, and Nicole Reina, a young runner of Ukrainian origin who won the national 2000m under-16 title last year and is considered to be one of Italy’s top middle-distance hopes for the future.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF
1 Muktar Edris (ETH) 28:42
2 John Kipkoech (KEN) 28:42
3 Geoffrey Kirui (KEN) 28:42
4 Moses Kipsiro (UGA) 28:43
5 Berhanu Legesse (ETH) 28:52
6 Daniele Meucci (ITA) 28:59
7 Hosea Nailel (KEN) 29:09
8 Leonard Komon (KEN) 29:10
9 Andrea Lalli (ITA) 29:15
10 Scott Bauhs (USA) 29:19
1 Debele Degefa (ETH) 19:26
2 Afera Godfay (ETH) 19:26
3 Veronica Nyaruai (KEN) 19:34
4 Kim Conley (USA) 19:36
5 Alem Gebremariam (ETH) 20:05
6 Milcah Chemos (KEN) 20:06
7 Silvia Weissteiner (ITA) 20:22
8 Tizita Bogale (ETH) 20:33
9 Giulia Viola (ITA) 20:33
10 Fatna Maraoui (ITA) 20:44