Everybody hopes that there will not be so much rain on 14 October. The Italian Half Marathon championships race, held on Sunday (27) in Udine as a test event for the 2007 World Road Running Championships, was unfortunately very wet after many hot days in Northern Italy. "It was the kind of weather conditions a LOC hopes not to ever have," the chief of the Local Organising Committee Paolo Bordon said.
Under strong rain, Kenya's Solomon Rotich and Bahrain's Nadia Ejjafini won their respective races, while Giuliano Battocletti and Anna Incerti took the national titles. Olympic champion Stefano Baldini confirmed his poor shape with a disappointing seventh place and in the next few days will officially reveal whether or not he plans to compete at August’s World Championships in Osaka.
A test for World Championships course
The race was held on the same course that will host the 2nd IAAF World Road Running Championships on 14 October. A 7km lap in the central streets of the city is completely flat, apart from a slightly uphill stretch in the first kilometre and a downhill one to enter the "Piazza I Maggio", where the start and finish zone is located. The athletes repeat the lap three times plus a straight at the beginning to reach the distance of 21.097km.
Jean-Marie Graal, the man who officially measured the course, along with most of the major marathons courses in the world for the IAAF and AIMS, including the Olympic course in Athens, followed the race in a car. The IAAF Family was represented by Council Member and Treasurer Jean Poczobut and other officials.
It will be the second time Italy hosts the global road championships as in 1999 edition they held the previously titled 'World Half Marathon Championships' in Palermo, which was won by the Kenyans Paul Tergat and Tegla Loroupe. The LOC dreams to have such a couple of star winners this year too. In recent days World record holder Samuel Wanjiru has indicated his interest in running in Udine. He would like to add a gold medal to his astonishing times at the distance.
Battocletti paces, Rotich wins - Men's race
While the rain poured down, Giuliano Battocletti led the race from the beginning at a 3:00/km pace (14:56 at 5km, 29:55 at 10km). A pack of eight reached the 15km (44:59), the point when the Italian launched the first serious attack. Only Kenya's Rotich, Philemon Kipkering and David Ngeny Cheruiyot were able to follow him, while Baldini began losing ground.
"I knew that Baldini was not in top form," Battocletti said. "But I knew also that in a close final he is very dangerous, so I tried to drop him. I got it."
With the national title in his pocket, Battocletti did not follow Rotich and Kipkering when they increased the pace with four kilometres to go. Rotich, 23, made another strong move in the last kilometre and dropped Kipkering as well. He closed with a new PB of 1:02:48, ten seconds better than his previous one. He also has a 2:11:42 PB in the Marathon, when finishing sixth in Rome last year.
"I'm really satisfied, for the win and the record," he said.
Kipkering easily defended his runner-up finish from Battocletti's comeback attack.
"I had been training hard for the last month in Sestriere, now I would like to get the time for the Worlds in the 10,000m," Battocletti, the new Italian champion said. He had won another Half Marathon title in Udine in 2002, when running a stunning 1:00:47, still his PB and the third fastest Italian time ever.
Difficult path to Osaka for Baldini
After his DNF at the London Marathon one month ago, Baldini had admitted he probably would need some rest and had said he was uncertain about what to do for Osaka. Yesterday he probably made his decision, even though he will talk to his coach Luciano Gigliotti before saying anything official.
"It was not a nice moment for me," Baldini told journalists just after crossing finish line. "It was one of the worst times in my life on the Half Marathon," he added, expressing his disappointment about his 1:03:53. "Now we will talk and see". Three days ago he turned 36 and many times said that he obviously could not recover as quikcly now as he did years ago.
Baldini crossed the finish line more than a minute after the winner. He failed to win his sixth title after wins in 1996, 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2006. Last year the championships had been held in his home town, Rubiera, but he also wasn't able to win the race, beaten by Kenya's Philemon Tarbei.
Solo run for Ejjafini - Women's race
Moroccan-born Ejjafini, who now runs for Bahrain and lives most of the time in Italy, repeated last year's win with a solo run from the outset. At three kilometres she ran a split of 3:11 and nobody tried to follow. At the end of the second lap she was on pace for a sub-1:11 run, a very good time considering the weather, but slowed in the last kilometre.
The real challenge was for the Italian title between Anna Incerti and Morocco-born Fatna Maraoui. They ran shoulder-by-shoulder for 18 kilometres, when Maraoui made a move. She took a 20 metre advantage on Incerti, but the Sicilian athlete did not give up and managed to close the gap in the following kilometre. She immediately launched her own attack and Maraoui paid for her previous effort, being dropped.
Ejjafini won with a time of 1:11:24, far from the 1:10:38 she had run a couple of months ago in the Stramilano.
"I did not want to have surprise, so I preferred to do a race on my own," she said.
Incerti, who at one point was 44 seconds behind the winner, finished just 24 seconds later. Maraoui was third in 1:12:27, ahead of former champion Gloria Marconi.
Alberto Zorzi for the IAAF
1. Solomon Rotich, KEN, 1:02:48
2. Philemon Kipkering, KEN, 1:03:04
3. Giuliano Battocletti, ITA, 1:03:14 (Italian champion)
4. David Ngeny Cheruiyot, KEN, 1:03:36
5. Natashon Rugut Kipngetich, KEN, 1:03:45
6. Edward Kiptum Tabut, KEN, 1:03:48
7. Stefano Baldini, ITA, 1:03:53
8. Antonello Petrei, ITA, 1:03:56
1. Nadia Ejjafini, BRN, 1:11:32
2. Anna Incerti, ITA, 1:11:56 (Italian champion)
3. Fatna Maraoui, ITA, 1:12:27
4. Gloria Marconi, ITA, 1:13:27
5. Deborah Toniolo, ITA, 1:15:48
6. Ivana Iozzia, ITA, 1:17:38
7. Denise Cavallini, ITA, 1:18:02
8. Siusa Kiprotich Epketir, KEN, 1:18:19