Milan, ItalyUkraine’s reigning three times European Cross Country champion Sergiy Lebid will take on the cream of Africa's younger generation of runners at the 71st edition of the Cinque Mulini - IAAF Permit – cross country meeting in San Vittore Olona, near Milan on Sunday 9 March.
The organisers from the local club "Unione Sportiva San Vittore Olona" had hoped the race would feature a showdown between Lebid and the 2002 double World Cross Country champion Kenenisa Bekele, who was the 2002 Cinque Mulini winner, as a final dress rehearsal for this year’s World Championships in Lausanne which take place in three weeks time. Unfortunately, illness will prevent the young Ethiopian from competing but there will still be much African running talent on show to give the Ukrainian a run for his money.
The men’s start list features Cheruiyot Korir, fresh from his win at the recent Kenyan Trials in Nairobi on 22 February, Sileshi Sihen, second at the Ethiopian Champs in Addis Abeba last weekend, and Tadesse Zerisenay (the first runner from Eritrean to compete in San Vittore Olona) one of the emerging cross country talents after his win at San Sebastian on 26 January.
Judging from the surprising results at the Kenyan Championships where Korir beat the likes of Koech, Sammy Kipketer, Patrik Ivuti and Richard Limo and - Lebid will face very strong opposition and it will not be easy for the blonde Ukrainian to continue this season’s winning streak.
Since Lebid’s win at the Italian club championships in Modena on 9 February - where he contributed to the third place of his Italian team ‘Cover Verbania’ behind the strong military squads from ‘Carabinieri Bologna’ and ‘Fiamme Gialle’ - he has returned back to Ukraine to prepare for Lausanne in the Caucasian mountains, and will return to Italy only on the eve of the Cinque Mulini.
The line-up in the women’s race will also certainly live up to the long traditions of the race.
Dorcus Inzikuru, the 2000 World Junior 5000m track champion and the winner of the Villagarina cross country this year, will face Alice Timbilil, the 2003 Kenyan champion in Nairobi, and the Italian Rosanna Martin, ninth in the short course race at the 2002 World Championships.
The Cinque Mulini is a legendary cross country race with a fascinating course which crosses by a series of ancient water mills, and snakes through fields and along river banks.
The race has survived profound changes in modern society. The organizers of the local club Unione Sportiva San Vittore Olona (founded in 1906) have not forgotten the humble and rural origins of this event, which has been annually held since 1933 (even during the second World War) thanks to the initiative of the late Giovanni Malerba.
Malerba was the "father" of the Cinque Mulini who convinced his friends to shovel clear the snow-covered paths to enable runners competing in the first edition of the race. The first editions were held in mid-winter and it was only in later years that it was postponed until the spring.
In 1953 the race became international, when the first foreign champions were invited to compete.
The Cinque Mulini has attracted many long distance stars, Olympic, World, European, African track champions and World record holders in it’s history. Among the many legends –
Billy Mills, Kipchoge Keino, Mamo Wolde, Lasse Viren, John Walker, Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe, Alberto Cova, Francesco Panetta and Haile Gebrselassie.
More recently the race has featured the victories of Moses Tanui (1990), Khalid Skah (1991), Fita Bayesa (four times in a row between 1992 and 1995), Paul Tergat (twice in 1996 and 1998), Salah Hissou (1999), Charles Kamathi (twice in 2000 and 2001) and Kenenisa Bekele, the winner last year.
The Norwegian Grete Waitz who holds the still unchallenged record of six wins at San Vittore Olona between 1978 and 1982 and in 1984, described the Cinque Mulini as the "best cross country race in the world.”
Even John Akii-Bua, Olympic champion in Munich 1972 at the 400 metres Hurdles, took part in one edition of the Cinque Mulini! The late Akii Bua finished last at San Vittore Olona, after being in the leading group during the first lap.
Thanks to an agreement between the organizers and Eurovision, broadcasters from Spain, Great Britain, Portugal and Belgium and of course Italian television RAI, will be showing coverage from San Vittore Olona.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF