Ukraine’s Sergiy Lebid continued his season's cross country winning streak with a narrow win over Boniface Kiprop of Uganda, at the 71st edition of the Cinque Mulini at San Vittore Olona, near Milan today. Alice Timbilil, who was recently crowned as Kenyan champion, won the women’s race from Zakia Mrisho of Tanzania.
Lebid is the first European to win the classic race since the victory of the Italian Alberto Cova, the 1983 World and 1984 Olympic 10,000m champion, in 1986.
The blonde Ukranian used his usual tactic of staying in the middle of the pack during the first four laps, leaving the initiative on this occasion to the Italians Giovanni Gualdi and Gabriele De Nard. These two runners provided a major uplift for Italian distance running hopes by taking the lead in the first two laps ahead of Boniface Kiprop from Uganda (bronze medallist at the World Junior Cross Country Championships last year in Dublin), Lebid, Eritrean Tadesse Zerisenay, the 2003 Kenyan champion John Korir (second placer at the Cinque Mulini in 1999), and Lebid's compatriot Vasily Matvichuk, the 2001 European Junior 10,000m champion.
With two laps to go Korir took the lead ahead of Zerisenay, Kiprop and Lebid. The latter, the reigning European Cross Country Champion had seemed to struggle against his younger rivals in the middle of the race, and they again increased the pressure with their attack at the bell.
However, Lebid pulled away as usual with 300 metres to go, eventhough Boniface Kiprop initially seemed to resist his attack. Lebid crossed the finishing line raising his hands in victory but Kiprop, who finished second, was so close that he recorded the same time of 35:20.
“I had planned to kick away only with 300 metres to go, so I was confident during the race, even when my rivals attacked me at the bell,” confirmed Lebid. “This is the strategy I planned during my training sessions."
"I am honoured to be the first European since 1986 to win here and to add my name to such a prestigious list of past winners at San Vittore Olona. This win represents the perfect build-up for Lausanne where I aim for a medal. The race course I will find in Lausanne is ideal for my kind of running, so I am confident. This year I am more prepared for the World Championships than last year, when my physical condition was not so good and I was forced to drop out of the race in Dublin."
“Let's see if Kenenisa Bekele will recover from his illness, but this race proved that there are other rivals I have to take into account if I want to go to the podium. Now I will fly to Yvratoria in Crimea on the Black Sea for a two-week pre-world training camp with the Ukranian team."
This is a special year for Lebid, not only for his athletics career. Lebid will get married to his long term fianceè Helena Gorodnicheva in his home town Dnepropetrovsk on 27 April.
The men’s race featured the return of the Italian Umberto Pusterla, who may make the Italian team for the World Championships at the age of 35 years, thanks to his excellent fifth place which beat Vasil Matvichuk into sixth.
The women’s competition produced a more predictable result. Alice Timbilil, Zakia Mrisho, the Polish runner Marzena Michalska, and the Italians Patrizia Tisi and Rosanna Martin, formed the initial leading group. After two laps Rosanna Martin suffered an injury and later was forced to drop out.
Timbilil first built and then increased her lead to 25 metres over the Tanzanian Mrisho, with the Kenyan champion holding her dominance to the finish line, with 13 seconds lead over the young Mrisho - a relatively new name even to athletics pundits - who proved to be the major surprise of the race.
“I came here to get experience after my win at the Kenyan Champs in Nairobi on 22 February. Now I am planning to spend three weeks at altitude in my country to prepare for the 8 km race at the World Champs in Lausanne, where I hope to do my best to contribute to a medal for my nation in the team competition,” said Timbilil.
Patrizia Tisi was a delighted third placer. "After the Italian Club Championships in Modena I did not expect to recover so quickly from a form of allergy I suffered from in my build-up to the Cinque Mulini. My third place has exceeded my expectation. I did not really expect to keep the pace with Timbilil and Mrisho during the race.”
”It will be a great honour for me to represent Italy at Lausanne if I am capped to compete there", said a delighed Patrizia Tisi about her chances at the next World Cross Country Championships in three weeks time.
The organizers of the "Società Sportiva San Vittore Olona" are bidding to host the 2007 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in San Vittore Olona.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF
Selected results from the 71st edition of the Cinque Mulini:
Men (12 Km):
1 Sergiy Lebid (Ukraine) 35:20
2 Boniface Kiprop (Uganda) 35:20
3 Tadesse Zerisenay (Eritrea) 35:22
4 John Korir (Kenya) 35:24
5 Umberto Pusterla (Italy) 36:05
6 Vasil Matvichuk (Ukraine) 36:15
7 Giovanni Gualdi (Italy) 36:18
8 Yacob Fortunato (Eritrea) 36:22
9 Gabriele De Nard (Italy) 36:35
10 Barden Spencer (GBR & NI) 36:35
Women (6 km):
1 Alice Timbilil (Kenya) 19:18
2 Zakia Mrisho (Tanzania) 19:31
3 Patrizia Tisi (Italy) 19:40
4 Marzena Michalska (Poland) 20:05
5 Agata Balsamo (Italy) 20:15
6 Susan Partridge (Great Britain) 20:18
7 Ivana Iozzia (Italy) 20:21
8 Johanna Risku (Finland) 20:24
9 Beverly Jenkins (Great Britain) 20:29
10 Deborah Toniolo (Italy) 20:35