Jose Manuel Martinez (375) of Spain (Getty Images) © Copyright

Martinez takes on African charge in Castelbuono - Preview

Once again, José Manuel Martinez, nicknamed  “Chema” in Spain, will be - for the third consecutive year  -the European runner who will try to make the difference with the huge contingent of African runners at the 84th edition of the “Giro podistico internazionale di Castelbuono”, ancient and noble Sicilian city located in the Madonie Natural Park, close to Palermo.

Two years ago, Chema ran ahead in the first metres and nobody was able to chase him anymore. His race thrilled the thousands’ people crowd which always attend this beautiful but tough 11 kilometres race which starts and finishes in Piazza Margherita, the very heart of the city.

Witnessing the victory of a European over Africans is not so common. After this triumph, Martinez ranked 10th in the Marathon at the Osaka World Championships.

Last year was less successful for him: he ranked fourth. The race was won by Ethiopia’s Ibrahim Jeilan over Kenya’s Paul Kosgei, third was Uganda’s Martin Toroitich.

The “Giro podistico internazionale di Castelbuono” holds a prestigious title: it’s the most ancient European race. The first edition was held in 1912 (the IAAF was founded in Stockholm this same year) and it has been interrupted only be the two World Wars. The vision, the heart and the will of the organizers are already heading towards 2012, which will be the celebration of the centenary.

This 84th edition is victim of the general situation of the road races: many, even too many some might say, with similar protagonists, the hordes of African runners which have invaded the European races, the prohibitive costs in order to get a few outstanding runners …..

There are currently no great protagonists, good ones but no exceptional ones. However, the cast of athletes set up by Mario Fesi and his team is always interesting. In addition to Martinez, there will be Portugal’s Fernando Silva and a small group of Italians looking for some glory: Curzi, De Nard, Scaini, Ruggiero.

As in the previous years, this little piece of Europe will try to stand out from the Africans. Hard duty when we think that the African runners have always been the protagonists of the last 17 out of 18 editions of the “Giro”. Before “Chema”’s victory in 2007, the only Euro-Italian winner had been Salvatore Bettiol in 1989!

This year, Africa’s leader is Kenya’s Paul Kosgei, World Half-Marathon Champion in Brussels 2002. Last year, he was leading for the whole race but was finally defeated in the last metres by Jeilan.

He will have some Kenyan co-racers: Vincent Kipruto, Duncan Kibet and David Kiyeng, but also the usual bunch of Ethiopian runners …all to be discovered; former Kenyan Richard Yatich now running for Qatar as Mubarak Hassam Shami, excellent marathoner, silver medal at the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships in Edmonton 2005; and finally Morocco’s Rachid Kisri.

Ottavio Castellini for the IAAF