Italian Olympic and European Marathon champion Stefano Baldini, six-time European Cross Country champion Sergiy Lebid from the Ukraine, 1500 metres star Maryam Yusuf Jamal from Bahrain and top European Cross Country and Marathon star Aniko Kalovics from Hungary will highlight the 75th edition of the legendary Cinque Mulini Cross Country race in San Vittore Olona which is the last IAAF World Cross Country Permit meeting of the season just three weeks before the World Championships in Mombasa on 24 March.
Baldini, who began his career running cross country, is looking to bring back the Cinque Mulini title to Italy 21 years after Olympic, World and European champion Alberto Cova became the last Italian to win in San Vittore Olona.
The Italian marathon star is in the mid of his build-up for next April’s London Flora Marathon. Baldini ran his last competitive test at the Granollers Half Marathon in Spain where he won unchallenged in 63:10 shortly after the first of his two training stints in Namibia. On 11 February he was forced to pull out of the Italian Club Cross Country race in Modena due to a bout of flu.
The Cinque Mulini is an important test for Baldini who is planning a second period of hard training in Namibia until the end of March on the eve of the Stramilano Half Marathon race on 1 April, his final test before London.
The attempt of Baldini to add his name to the list of past glorious names who have made the proud history of the Cinque Mulini is far from easy because he will face former European cross country king Sergiy Lebid.
The Ukrainian star, who won six European cross country crowns in 1998 and between 2001 and 2005, was relegated to 12th place at the last edition of the European Cross Country Championships in the northern Italian city of San Giorgio su Legnano after suffering from stomach problems.
Lebid has recently returned to good form winning the IAAF Almond Blossom Cross Country race in Albufeira (Portugal) last Sunday. He won the Cinque Mulini in 2003 when he beat Uganda’s Boniface Kiprop and Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadesse.
Not just Europeans
Robert Kipchumba and Mark Bett lead the Kenyan challenge in San Vittore. Kipchumba won two World Junior titles in 2000 in the cross country and the 10,000 metres. More recently he finished runner-up at last year’s IAAF World Road Running Championships in Debrecen over the 20km distance.
Bett, a 5000 metres and 10,000 metres specialist, ran a career best of 26:52.93 in the 10,000 metres in Brussels in 2005. Last week he finished second in the 3000 metres in the indoor meeting in Stockholm behind Kenenisa Bekele.
The Italian interest is also focused on rising star Andrea Lalli who aroused much enthusiasm following his impressive gun-to-tape win of the junior European title on home soil in San Giorgio su Legnano last December which marked a successful weekend for Italian cross country racing.
Daniele Meucci, third in the European under-23 race in San Giorgio su Legnano, is the other Italian hope lining up on Sunday in San Vittore Olona.
Jamal Vs Kalovics in the women’s race
The women’s race features the clash between Maryam Yusuf Jamal and Aniko Kalovics.
Lausanne-based Jamal enjoyed a successful 2006 season when she lowered her own Asian record in the 1500 metres running in 3:56.18 in the Rieti IAAF World Athletics Tour meeting and won both the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart and the World Cup in Athens last September.
The former Ethiopian Zebenesh Tola, a World Indoor bronze medallist in the 1500 metres in Moscow 2006, also ran remarkable personal bests over distances ranging from middle to long distances: 800 metres: 1:59.69, 3000 metres: 8:28.87; 5000 metres: 14:51.68 and half-marathon: 71:43.
Jamal will face a tough test on Sunday afternoon when she squares off against front-runner Aniko Kalovics. The Hungarian star is a well-known athlete in Italy and is familiar to the fascinating cross country course of San Vittore Olona. She won the last edition of the Cinque Mulini defeating Uganda’s Dorcus Inzikuru thanks to her usual gun-to-tape tactic. Kalovics also finished third in 2004 and second in 2005.
Kalovics, a former European cross country medallist in 2003, made her debut over the marathon last October in Carpi where she ran 2:26:43, a time which she hopes to improve on 15 April in the Turin Marathon.
Another top name is Zhor El Kamch from Morocco who finished seventh over the short distance in the IAAF World Cross Country race in Fukuoka.
The Cinque Mulini is also the penultimate leg of the Fidal Cross Country race which will reach its climax next week when the northern Italian town of Villalagarina (near Rovereto) hosts the Italian Cross Country Championships (11 March).
This year the Cinque Mulini is marked by an important change of the course. The organizers of the Cinque Mulini have decided to return to the past staging both the start and the finish-line in the old stadium which they proudly named the “Stadium of Cross Country”.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF