The legendary Cinque Mulini – Five Mills - Cross Country race in San Vittore Olona, an IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting, continues to maintain its place in the history of the discipline with its 81st edition on Sunday (3).
Ethiopia’s rising star Muktar Edris, the 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships 5000m gold medallist and reigning African junior cross country champion, , will be looking to score a hat-trick in the major Italian Cross Country races during an outstanding winter in which he also won the Campaccio and the Cross della Vallagarina races in January.
In these two races he showed his variety of tactic skills, winning in a dramatic final sprint at the IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting in San Giorgio su Legnano on 6 January and then running at the front from the start in Rovereto a week later.
Edris, who clocked 13:04.34 in the Samsung Diamond League meeting in Paris last summer, has also run frequently on the roads in Italy in the last few months. He finished second in both the Giro di Trento back in October and at then the Boclassic in New Year’s Eve, the latter behind the current World Cross Country champion and his compatriot Imane Merga.
The last Ethiopian winner in San Vittore Olona was Hunengnaw Mesfin in 2010. In the past editions, famous Ethiopian stars who triumphed in the popular Italian race were Fita Bayesa, who won four consecutive times from 1992 to 1995, and the 12-time IAAF World Cross Country Championships winner Kenenisa Bekele in 2002.
Rop looking for repeat after Diekirch win
However, Kenya’s London 2012 Olympic Games 5000m bronze medallist Thomas Longosiwa won the last edition when he became the 12th runner from this country to triumph in San Vittore Olona; adding his name to the list of past Kenyan winners who took the honours at the Cinque Mulini, which features John Ngugi, Paul Tergat, Charles Kamathi and Paul Kipsiele Koech.
This year, Kenyan hopes are carried by 18-year-old Albert Rop, who won last week in the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in Diekirch, Luxemburg, in snowy conditions.
The other top Kenyan runner in the field is Bernard Kipkemoi Rotich, who finished runner-up in San Vittore Olona behind Longosiwa 12 months ago.
A Ugandan runner has never won in San Vittore Olona but has contributed to the legend of this race thanks to 1972 Olympic 400m Hurdles champion John Akii Bua famously taking part in one edition of the Cinque Mulini, although he finished last after running in the leading group during the first lap.
This year, Uganda will be represented by 2011 World Cross Country Championships junior men’s silver medallist Thomas Ayeko. The young Ugandan rising star showed his recent good shape when he won the at the recent IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting in Antrim, Northern Ireland,, winning with a 37-second advantage over his nearest rival.
Ethiopia’s Azemra Gebru, the 2011 World Cross Country Championships junior women's bronze medallist and 2011 African junior 3000m champion, was originally expected to start but pulled out injured on Friday. The mantle of favourite in the women’s race now passes to her compatriot Afera Godfay, who has had some good outings in the last five weeks.
Godfay, 21, finished second at both the Boclassic on New Year's Eve and also in the Campaccio cross country race week later. She will be looking to bring back the Cinque Mulini title back to Ethiopia 15 years after their last triumph, which was achieved by Merima Denboba in 1998.
Kenya, which won last year’s edition of the San Vittore Olona race through Priscah Jepleting Cherono, will be represented by half marathon specialist Eunice Kales while Italian hopes are carried by 3000m steeplechaser Valeria Roffino, who finished second in a close race at the Vallagarina Cross Country race.
The Cinque Mulini boasts a fascinating history. On 22 January, 1933, Giovanni Malerba, the ‘father’ of the Cinque Mulini, convinced his friends to shovel clear the snow-covered course to enable runners to take part in the first edition of the race. It has been held annually ever since, even during the turbulent years of World War II.
Late Norwegian running star Grete Waitz, who set a winning record of six victories in San Vittore Olona between 1978 and 1984, described the race as, “the most beautiful cross country race in the world. “
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF