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Whilst developing the Karhu Trophy pack, we were inspired not only by the trophies and symbols of victory, but also by Karhu Chairman Franco Arese. Mr Arese used to be a professional track and field athlete and specialised in the 1500-metre race. In his heydays, he competed on the highest level against some of the biggest athletes of his time. Honouring Franco Arese, we interviewed him about his most memorable races and trophies.
The most important and memorable victory was the one in Finland, in the Olympic Stadium of Helsinki, where I won my 1500-metre European gold medal. In the 70s, the European Championship was the most important competition in running, second only to the Olympics, so you can imagine the impact it had on me.
During the race, I partnered with the English runner Brendan Foster. We made a pact by helping each other in keeping the pace high. Brendan won the bronze medal and after the race, he hugged me and said: “Franco, you kept your word!”
Finland is dear to me because of my summer visits to train in Turku with some of the best runners and coaches (Kari Sinkonen). I became fascinated with the country, its nature, running history and its champions like Paavo Nurmi, Pekka Vasala and Lasse Viren.
All of these experiences and memories played a part in the decision to become the owner of the beloved Finnish sports brand, Karhu.
A personalized trophy of the Helsinki Olympic Stadium was given to the competitors of the event. It was handed to me in the dressing room along with a bouquet of roses.
The 1500-metre race at the World Championships for Universities gave me confidence about my value, which helped me to compete in future races. Furthermore, I won it in Turin, the city I lived and trained in as an athlete for many years, which is also the city where I met my wife Vera and where our children were born. All in all a very memorable victory in the city that connected my private and sports life.
One of the most important Italian track & field events is the “Notturna” in Milan. This event was also the scene of a big clash between Martin Liquori (the best American middledistance runner of the 70s) and me. It turned out in my favour and I won the 1500-metre race, while Liquori finished third behind Delbuono.
I still remember this race like it was yesterday. The Arena in Milan was sold out and the audience were cheering loudly, a memory that I will never forget!
The following year Liquori took revenge. Although I ran a new Italian record, he won the race with a time of 3.36, which was the best performance of the year. Martin and I had epic confrontations; I remember them all very well.
During my racing career, I had always dreamed of being able to run a marathon. In December 1971 I decided to run my first (and last) marathon, and so I signed up for Rome.
To prepare myself for the marathon, I experimented with new training methods. The training week consisted of three sessions a day for four days straight. On the fifth and sixth day of the week, I did two training sessions a day. Sunday was a rest day.
During the marathon, I ran the first 20 km with Italian athlete Franco Fava, and the remaining 22 km alone. I won the race in 2hours and 23 minutes, which was not an exceptional time, but it turned out that I’d miscalculated - I was convinced that there was still another 5 km to go. If only I had GPS back then, my time could have been even faster. However, my dream of participating in and winning a marathon came true, a once in a lifetime experience!
At this race, the greatest middle-distance runners of the time were present: The Polish Szordykowski, the Frenchman Wadoux, and the German Norpoth were all competing.
In the beginning, it was a tactical and very slow race, and the final metres were tough. At 300 metres from the end, I launched the attack. It was a painful sprint to the finish while Szordykowski narrowed the gap between us, but luckily I managed to win.
In the locker room, I met Belgian champion, Roger Moens, who had won the Silver medal at the Rome Olympics. He said to me: “Franco, you are a champion because today you have beaten some of the greatest athletes”. Coming from an athlete of his status, these words made me very proud.