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Wanjiru, Tadese To Face Off In Castelbuono

Gold medalists set to go head-to-head in Europe’s most competitive road race.

Written by: David Monti
(c) 2010 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

PALERMO — Two of distance running’s finest champions, Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea, will face off at the Giro Podistico Internazionale de Castelbuono next Monday, organizers announced at a press conference on Wednesday.  The event, Europe’s oldest competitive road race, will be held for the 85th time despite the financial crisis in Palermo which organizers said made staging this year’s contest a strain on the local government.

Wanjiru, who won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Marathon in Beijing and announced last week he will be running the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach half marathon in September, will be making his first competitive appearance since failing to finish the Virgin London Marathon on April 25.  There, the 23 year-old athlete was bothered by an injury to his right knee which forced him to drop out between 25 and 30 kilometers.  Wanjiru was the defending London champion, clocking a course record 2:05:10 in 2009.

Tadese, 28, has won the gold medal at the IAAF World Road Running/Half Marathon Championships for four consecutive years.  He got his first victory over 20K in Debrecen in 2006, duplicating the same result over the half marathon distance in Undine in 2007, Rio di Janeiro in 2008 and Birmingham, England, in 2009.  Further proving that he is truly the master of the half marathon distance, Tadese ran a spectacular 58:23 IAAF-ratified world record at the Meia-Maratona Internacional de Lisboa last March, also setting an IAAF world record at 20K en route (55:21).

This will be the first appearance for both athletes at the race in Castelbuono, and they should find it challenging.  The race is held on a 1130-meter loop, with one hill, which the athletes will complete ten times.  The course record is 33:46 by Kenyan Martin Lel in 2004.

Behind these two superstars, race director Mari Fesi has recruited four other Africans who could also win the race.  The first is defending champion Vincent Kipruto of Kenya, who won last year’s contest by just one second in 34:02 over Qatari Mubarak Hassan Shami, the 2007 IAAF World Championships Marathon silver medalist.  Kipruto, 22, was the 2009 Paris Marathon champion and has a marathon personal best of 2:05:13.

Also in the race is four-time Boston Marathon champion Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, who also won in Castelbuono in 2006 and was third in 2004.  Cheruiyot, 31, will be joined by his training partner James Kwambai, 27, who has been at the same high altitude training camp since early July in northern Italy organized by his Italian coaches, Gabriele Rosa and Claudio Beardelli.  Kwambai, who has never raced in Castelbuono, has a sizzling marathon personal best of 2:04:27 set in Rotterdam in 2009.  At that race this year, he faltered badly, was forced to walk, and jogged in to finish 20th in 2:24:07

Abreham Feleke Cherkos, 20, of Ethiopia, the 2008 world junior 5000-meter champion, is also entered and should contend for the podium.

American half marathon record holder Ryan Hall had committed to the race, but was forced to withdraw for personal reasons, according to his manager, Ray Flynn.

With competition at the European Championships in Athletics beginning next Tuesday, recruiting top Italian talent was nearly impossible for Fesi.  Nonetheless, four Italian men earned invitations to the race, led by the 2007 European Indoor Championships 3000-meter gold medallist, Cosimo Caliandro.  The versatile Caliandro, 28, has a 5000-meter personal best of 13:50.97 and has covered 10,000 meters in 28:40.94.  Also on “Squadra Italia” will be Gabriele De Nard, Gian Marco Buttazzo, and Giovanni Ruggiero.

The unrelenting sun here will no doubt play a role in next Monday’s race.  Temperatures will be around 30°C (86°F) when the race begins at 7:00 PM.