Aweke Ayalew wins at the Antrim International Cross Country (Mark Shearman) © Copyright
Preview San Vittore Olona, Italy

Ayalew chases third consecutive series victory at Cinque Mulini

The northern Italian town of San Vittore Olona plays host to the 84th edition of the Cinque Mulini cross country meeting on Sunday (31), with Bahrain’s Aweke Ayalew chasing his third consecutive win in this winter’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series.

Ayalew will be looking to follow his impressive victories in Antrim and Elgoibar earlier this month. The brother of 2013 world cross-country silver medallist Hiwot Ayalew and 2009 world 10,000m bronze medallist Wude Ayalew, has also won two Spanish top quality cross-country races in Yecla and Venta de Banos this winter.

Consequently, Ayalew will wear bib number six, which is traditionally given by the organisers to the favourite.

Six is the magic number for the Cinque Mulini, as late Norwegian distance-running legend Grete Waitz still holds a record of six wins in this race: from 1978-82 and then again in 1984.

Ayalew will face Kenya’s Jairus Birech, who will be looking to improve on his third place in last year’s race when the course was extremely muddy.

Birech, the Diamond Race 3000m steeplechase winner for the past two years and the fastest steeplechaser in the world in 2014 and 2015, finished third in the Campaccio IAAF Cross Country Permit race in the neighbouring town of San Giorgio su Legnano earlier this month.

The Cinque Mulini meeting has also a tradition of revealing emerging talents.

This year the rising star to follow could be Geoffrey Kipkirui Korir, who won the junior men’s silver medal in Guiyang last March and finished second last Sunday in another Italian cross country race, the Vallagarina meeting in Rovereto.

The Italian contingent will be led by Giuseppe Gerratana, the 3000m steeplechase silver medallist at the 2013 European Under-23 Championships in Tampere, European junior 10,000m champion Pietro Riva and Lorenzo Dini, the 2013 European junior 10,000m silver medallist.

Local attention will also be on the twin brothers Bernard and Martin Dematteis, and Xavier Chevrier, who won the team gold medal for Italy at the 2015 World Mountain Running Championships.

Kipyegon looking for second series win

Faith Kipyegon will be chasing her second win at the Cinque Mulini meeting, two years after her last triumph.

Last year, the Kenyan middle distance star won the world 1500m silver medal. In the cross country, the 22-year-old had a prodigious junior career with consecutive world junior cross-country titles in 2011 and 2013. And she has already triumphed in this year’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series with a win in Seville two weeks ago.

Kipyegon will take on Ethiopia’s world junior 5000m silver medallist Alemitu Hawi. Last Sunday, Hawi also won at the Vallagarina cross country meeting.

The women’s field also features Marcelyne Chelangat from Uganda, third in Vallagarina, and Great Britain’s Lily Partridge.

Italy will be represented by former European junior 5000m champion Silvia La Barbera, who finished second in the Vallagarina, 3000m steeplechaser Valeria Roffino and Sara Dossena, who is using the cross country season as preparation for the next triathlon season when she will be aiming for a place at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

The fascinating course across a three-kilometre circuit runs through the water mills Cozzi and Meraviglia, which have contributed to the legend of this popular Italian race.

The Cinque Mulini was first held in 1933 and never stopped, even during the years of the Second World War. No fewer than 33 Olympic champions have taken part in past editions of the Cinque Mulini, including Steve Ovett, John Walker, Filbert Bayi, Kip Keino, Alberto Cova, Kenenisa Bekele and current IAAF President Sebastian Coe.

Coe ran the Cinque Mulini in 1980 as part of his preparations for the Olympics that summer, where he memorably won the 1500m gold medal.

“Six-time Cinque Mulini winner Grete Waitz called this race the most beautiful cross country competition in the world," wrote IAAF President Sebastian Coe in a message to the Cinque Mulini organisers. "Few people can understand the importance of cross country better than the five-time world cross country champion from Norway. This famous race embodies the spirit of cross country. The Cinque Mulini was part of my DNA as it gave me the chance to train the endurance I needed to run middle distance races on the track during the summer.”

The last Italian runner to win the Cinque Mulini was 1984 Olympic 10,000m champion Alberto Cova who triumphed in in 1986.

“I will always remember the enjoyable atmosphere along the course and the huge support from the fans,” Cova said during the press conference earlier this week. "The entrance into the mill was the most fascinating and decisive part of the course. When I won the Cinque Mulini, the race was held in March on a warm day. It was the re-match of the World Cross Country Championships."

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF