Two Italian athletics legends explain the importance of the European Cross Country Championships in Turin

The European Cross Country Championships 2022 brought together in the elegant and welcoming Reggia di Venaria two faces that have never stopped living, embodying and passing on the beauty of athletic sacrifice. They are Franco Arese and Maurizio Damilano. They are two rectors of the Italian sports universe. They are two minds, two bodies, two souls who have dedicated and continue to dedicate their existences to athletics.

“That’s how I started running, in the Cuneo countryside and in the student championships,” confides Arese, first an international-level middle distance runner and European 1500-meter champion in Helsinki ’71, then a successful entrepreneur and now chairman of Karhu, “Cross-country is crucial, especially for middle distance runners. Running in the mud is something different, it teaches you how to overcome moments of crisis that you can find again on the track. Cross fortifies your mind, because everything here is not nice and clean, the uncertainties are endless…. Think for example of Jakob Ingebritsen, Olympic champion in the 1500 meters in Tokyo. He just won his sixth consecutive European gold on this track-this is proof of how propaedeutic this sport is.”

“It’s a great training ground for building athletes,” continues Damilano, a marcher who was Olympic gold medalist in Moscow ’80 and two-time world champion in the 20km and is now a prominent adviser to the Italian Athletics Federation, “Middle distance runners build their results with cross, but this sport serves above all as a starter for many children who encounter athletics in school competitions and fall in love with it. XC also touches on a key issue for today’s society, environmental sustainability. It is a discipline that allows people to run and move in nature, to make the best use of the environment.” “This place is a former hunting reserve, and I think it’s a fantastic setting for an event like this,”Arese echoes him as he looks at the magnificence of the Reggia di Venaria, “Usually XC races are run in the countryside, in anonymous areas where this architectural and monumental contour is not present…. Here, however, human art blends with the environment and with running. I have a feeling that this scenery completes the competition and makes it fascinating primarily for the athletes, but also for the more than ten thousand people who have flocked to admire their performances.”

The eyes of these former athletes light up before young strides, triggering a dual process of identification and desire. Whole decades of visceral love for athletics are reflected in Ingebritsen’s legs, as is the desire for the development of this noble, yet extremely popular sporting universe. “It’s an honor for me to support this event,” says Arese, “And it’s an honor to represent Karhu and its history closely connected to so many legends of athletics, such as the Flying Finns or the 15 gold medals this brand dressed in Helsinki 1952. A few years ago I decided to relaunch Karhu, it was a matter of respect for a piece of sports history. At the same time, it is crucial to relaunch cross country, and this public setting shows that we are on the right track.” “When I participate in these competitions I relive moments from my career,” Damilano concludes, “Italian athletes, their results and their achievements take me back in time…. They make me think of the self-esteem and awareness I gained from achieving results like the gold medal in Moscow. I have left track 30 years ago, but I have not left athletics. For this event I took on the role of CEO of the organizing and coordinating committee, siding with President Lucchi. This extraordinary setting and this crowd confirm to me how increasingly necessary it is for athletics to become a platform for mass inclusion.”

Credits: KARHU
Photo Credits: Rise Up Duo
Text by: Gianmarco Pacione