Italy and Eritrea: ‘Running’ Side by Side

Italy and Eritrea: ‘Running’ Side by Side

Mr. Massimo Magnani

Some members of the Italian National Team of marathoners are here in Eritrea, training atop the mountains under the balmy Asmarino sun. More than just running, this venture further brings the people of Eritrea and Italy together, trough sport.

We caught the boys right after their morning training on Thursday and here follows our chat.


-Massimo Magnani

I am the long distance coach of the Italian national team. I was once an athlete myself. I participated twice in the Olympics games: in Montreal in 1976 and in Moscow in 1980.

I gladly returned to Asmara. My first visit was almost ten years ago in 2007. For this trip, I came with the Italian marathoners to conduct this season’s practices in Asmara. We find it very favorable due to altitude and the long standing prominence of athletics in Eritrea.

  • -What are some other activities that you are conducting besides training?

We now have five athletes here with us who are some of Italy’s most talented. Some of the projects we are trying to carry on with the Italian federation, which by the way has already took on several joint projects with Eritrea, is to bring development while exchanging ideas trough sports. Part of our job is to exchange ideas and expertise with local trainers, physiotherapists and medics; the top three aspects that enhance the shape and performance of athletes.

  • -You were previously talking  about ‘integration’. How do you intend to bring integration between athletes of both national teams?

We choose to come to Eritrea because there are climatic and g e o g r a p h i c a l c o n d i t i o n s suitable for courses of training and very vital to us, especially since E u r o p e is so cold n o w . Personally speaking, I prefer E r i t r e a b e c a u s e there are so many t a l e n t e d athletes. Zerisenay Tadesse, for example, is one of the biggest half marathon athletes in the world. We want to exchange best practices with trainers, physiotherapists, medics and athletes. Surely, we intend to learn more from Eritrean athletes and trainers.

The tradition that bounds Italy and Eritrea is a tradition that dates back to a long time, hence we intend not to lose the union. In our national team there is also someone special: One of our runners, Eyob, was born and raised in Asmara. His family came to Italy and he lived there for 10 years and is now an Italian citizen. Eyob is only 24 years old and already holds the record in his first marathon in November. He is an athlete of the future and is likely to take part in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. As an Eritrean-Italian he is another symbol of the integration between our two societies.

  • -What do you think of the Eritrean athletes?

They are amongst the best in the world and it has been set as tradition for at least the past decade. There are perfect conditions favorable for growth. It is clear that this country has challenges outside of sports but Eritrean athletes can bring change through sport integration and exchange.

  • -Any last remarks?

Eritrea is a country that has a lot of potential and we know that much work is being exerted to bring development. We will try to promote Asmara and its beautyy to the rest of the world.

  • -Rugero Pertile 

Mr. Rugero Pertile

I have participated in athletics for more than 30 years now. During my carreer I have run in many cross country and track races but more recently I have been dedicated to marathons.

We came to Eritrea because we wanted to practice in the high altitude and also some place warm. We found it here! We also have met a beautiful local team with whom we are practicing and definitely have integrated well with. We hope to continue this venture in the future as well.

  • -What do you think of the Eritrean athletes?

I have always thought that they are great athletes. I remember how impressive it was when Zeresenay Tadesse broke the world’s half marathon record. We have always have had Eritrean athletes as our idols. Therefore to actually be here and train with them gives me satisfaction. Whereever we go with them there is always something new to learn

  • -How is the training going?

We are doing well because the routes are favorable and the ventilation is great, which is what we need to go strong. I had surgeries in November and am now in recovery but when I finally recover I hope to retake marathons. We are doing well in Eritrea and I think that we will be back for more. We are definitely happy that we visited Eritrea!

  • -Eyob Gebrihiwot

Currently, I am preparing for cross country races and soon after for marathons. I suggested that we come to Eritrea because I know and believe that it is great place for different

Mr. Eyob Gebrihiwot

types of trainings. We came here under the supervision of the Italian Sports Federation. Personally, I have been here before for my individual trainings. I have family here so it was easy for me to come. When we train here I see notable changes, racing in high attitude positively affects our performances.

  • -How long have you participated in athletics?

I played soccer when I was younger and since 2010 began running track. I started off very well in my first marathon, the Maratona di Firenze, where I got in 3rd place at 02:15:00. This year I hope to set a record for marathons and join the world marathons. We have Italian cross country championships when we’ll join the half marathon in Milan. I hope to participate and do well at the European championships as well, individually or as a team.

  • -Daniele Meucci
  • -How long have you participated in athletics?

I started to participate in athletics when I was 17. I started it for fun but after the age of 18 it became more than just a fun hobby. I started recording new times by the day. In 2006 in Gutenberg I ranked 10th at 10 Km, in 2010 I made it in 3rd, and later on in 2012 I ranked 2nd. Finally, in 2014 I got Italy a gold medal at the European Championships. It is my first time in Eritrea and we are now getting ready for the races that we might join in April.

  • -How is the training going?

Training with the Eritrean runners has been great because not only are they extremely talented but they are also extremely helpful and nice. I have been to Kenya and other

Mr. Daniele Meucci

places for trainings, but the mentality is a lot different here. The runners here are a lot more open-minded and ready to exchange viewpoints. It is a beautiful experience because this is something we normally don’t do back at home as we train alone. On the contrary, here I am already used to having 10 colleagues to train with every morning.

  • Any other remarks?

My greetings to you all and my gratitude to the Eritrean federation for allowing us to train here with Eritrean athletes. I hope to come more often.

  • -Bernard DeMatteis
  • -How is the training going?
Mr. Bernard DeMatteis

It’s my first time here in Eritrea but I like it a lot. The first days were hard because here we are at 2400m above sea level, but now after two weeks of trainings we have adapted well to the climate. The routes are beautiful, there a lot of up and down hills which is good for me because I specialize in mountain running. So I find it very useful to train here.

I specialize in mountain running and I have set major records. I won twice in the European Championships and I have silver medal for an individual record at the World Champions.

I am now hoping to try out for marathons and that is a new type of training, I am trying to modify my running style so that I can reach my marathon dreams.

  • -How have you found Eritrea?

I would like to thank the people of Eritrea for welcoming us. We recently visited the Italian school in Asmara and we truly were welcomed warmly, I know that Italians were here years back but it’s just great to see the independent people of a great country.

Just like our experience where we train together, sweat together and eventually became friends, I wish for the friendship of the Eritrean and Italian people to last. I hope to be a part of more activities through which the two nations will integrate even more.