World 3000m Steeplechase record holder Saif Saaeed Shaheen from Qatar made his comeback from injury by winning today's (1 Feb) 77th edition of the Cinque Mulini in San Vittore Olona, the sixth of ten IAAF Cross Country Permit Meetings this season.
Shaheen showed that he has fully recovered from last year’s knee surgery with a convincing nine-second win over Ukraine’s eight-time European champion Sergiy Lebid on what was a snowy day. It was the second win for Shaheen in San Vittore Olona after he took the honours in 2005 but then the race was run on a different course.
Aniko Kalovics from Hungary also scored her second win in San Vittore Olona defeating three-time European junior cross country champion Stephanie Twell from Great Britain after a hard-fought women’s race.
After a conservative start in which no one took the early initiative, Shaheen and Lebid eventually went into the lead during the first lap forming the front of the race with Italian cross country specialist Gianmarco Buttazzo as the leading trio.
When Shaheen made his first breakaway attempt, Lebid was the only man who managed to follow him, and it was another Italian distance-running hope Daniele Meucci who overtook Buttazzo to head the chasing group. Meucci ran a good race in the early part and tried to close the gap on Shaheen and Lebid but after going across the Mulino Meraviglia he lost ground again.
Meanwhile Lebid and Shaheen ran in the front while European Under-23 silver medallist Andy Vernon from Great Britain caught up with Meucci.
With two laps and a half to go Shaheen broke away from Lebid with a decisive attack carving out a solid lead which he increased in the last lap. Shaheen crossed the finish-line in 31:37 beating Lebid by nine seconds. Franck Tickner from Great Britain finished third in 31:53 ahead of Andy Vernon, who finished fourth 13 seconds adrift.
“The race was ok. I was out for two years”, said Shaheen. “I underwent surgery on my knee in Germany last year. I am excited about this win because I felt that my body responded well to the effort. It was amazing.”
“I have great respect for Lebid who won eight European titles. Now I feel that I can run at the same level as before the injury or even faster. I will run at the World Cross Country Championships in Amman. If I finish in the top ten, it will be fine.”
Aniko Kalovics used her familiar tactic going to the front from the very beginning of the race, while British teenager Stephanie Twell chose to run more conservatively in the chasing pack during the first of two laps.
Twell gradually closed the gap on Kalovics who led with 10:29 on the clock at the end of the first lap with a six-second gap over the Briton. During the second lap Kalovics stumbled but quickly recovered well, although Twell seemed to reduce the gap on the Hungarian.
Twell caught up with Kalovics inside the famous Mulino Meraviglia. Twell went to the front and seemed certain to prevail over the Hungarian with 800 metres to go but shortly before they entered the old cross country stadium Kalovics launched a devastating winning kick which eventually edged out Twell by four seconds. Kalovics crossed the finish-line in 19:34 to Twell’s 19:38.
Freya Murray from Great Britain took third place holding off Sweden’s Ida Nilson by six seconds.
“I tried to drop Twell in the early part of the race because I knew that she has a strong finish”, said Kalovics. “I was tired because I am training for the Rak Half Marathon in Ras al Khaimah (United Arab Emirates) scheduled on 20 February.”
Twell ran a solid competition in her third senior race after her third European junior cross country title in Brussels. “I ran a brilliant race. When I caught up with Kalovics inside the mill, I hoped to win but she responded by launching her kick. It was an exciting race run over a challenging course”, said Twell.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF
Results from the Cinque Mulini:
1 Saif Saeed Shaheen (Qatar) 31:37
2 Sergiy Lebid (Ukraine) 31:46
3 Franck Tickner (Great Britain) 31:53
4 Andy Vernon (Great Britain) 32:06
5 Steve Vernon (Great Britain) 32:11
6 Gian Marco Buttazzo (Italy) 32:18
7 Lee Merrien (Great Britain) 32:30
8 Daniele Meucci (Italy) 32:40
9 Rachid Jarmouni (Italy) 32:40
10 Philipp Bandi (Switzerland) 32:52
11 Michel Butter (Netherlands) 32:59
12 Tom Lancashire (Great Britain) 33:01
1 Aniko Kalovics (Hungary) 19:34
2 Stephanie Twell (Great Britain) 19:38
3 Freya Murray (Great Britain) 19:59
4 Ida Nilsson (Sweden) 20:05
5 Sonia Samuels (Great Britain) 20:09
6 Kathryn Avery (Great Britain) 20:20
7 Susie Hignett (Great Britain) 20:23
8 Renate Rungger (Italy) 20:26
9 Victoria Wilkinson (Great Britain) 20:37
10 Simona Santini (Italy) 20:40