When Italy's great distance runner Gelindo Bordin won the marathon gold in the 1988 Olympics, following up two years later with a win in Boston, he inspired a 15-year-old from Jesi, Italy, Daniele Caimmi. Now 31, Caimmi has emerged as Italy's best hope in Boston and this summer's Olympics in Athens, for which he has already qualified. But for all the marathons he has run, from Venice to Rotterdam to a pair of World Championships, Caimmi considers Boston the big one he has been aiming for.
"Boston is one of the most important marathons in the world," he said, "so for me it was one of the most important moments in my career to come to Boston. And it is also good for Italy to have a runner present here."
Caimmi says he will run tomorrow with his mentor, Bordin, in mind.
"I would like to do well in Boston," he said. "It is an important race for me, almost as important as the Olympics."
Since 1998, when he placed second in Venice, Caimmi has established himself as a steady presence in the international marathoning world. But in 2002, when he placed third in the Milan Marathon -- despite clocking the same 2 hours 8 minutes 59 seconds as the first and second finishers -- his reputation began to grow. The race featured a photo finish among three top finishers.
The winner of that race was the 2003 Boston champion, Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, and to basically tie the Kenyan gave Caimmi a boost of confidence.
"That was a very close race," he said. "I was in front for half the marathon and it was very tough on me. So I lost a few meters at the start of the kick, although I was in the kick with them and trying to catch up in the last 50 meters."
In fact, Caimmi was gaining at the finish and finished so close to the others that the difference could not be measured in seconds. The performance raised Caimmi's profile on the world stage, and in the next year he won the Turin Marathon, placed sixth at the World Championships, and was fourth in the European Championships.
At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Caimmi ran the 10,000 meters -- the event in which he was national champion in 2000. His personal best in the half-marathon is 61:35, a time that placed him fourth in the 2002 Rome Ostia Half-Marathon.
Caimmi, who works for the Fiscal Police Corporation, said he approached his training for Boston with hilly courses in Namibia, and some European locales where the weather was cooler. He says the talk of 80 degrees worries him some.
"It was very hot in Namibia -- more than 80 sometimes. But still, for a marathon, it is better in fresh [cooler] weather," he said. "Eighty is too hot for a marathon. But I am not afraid of hot weather."
He would like to go on and run New York some year, but around the world, says Caimmi, Boston is always talked about as the most important race. He is looking forward to experiencing the start-to-finish crowd support for which it is famous.
"Ever since [Bordin's win], I have been thinking what this race must be like," said Caimmi, who is planning to marry marathoner Rosalba Console. "So I am very glad to be running here."
Caimmi says he has worked hard on the hills and believes he is in the best shape of his life. But he acknowledges that the level of competition in Boston is high.
"There are many runners who have already had very good times at Boston before, and New York," he said. "But I will run my best and hope to beat them. We will see."