The famous Cinque Mulini cross country meeting in the Italian town of San Vittore Olona will celebrate its 83rd edition on Sunday (15) and spectators are potentially going be treated to a battle between Ethiopia’s Muktar Edris and Kenya’s Jairus Birech at the ninth of this winter’s IAAF Cross Country Permit meetings.
Edris, the fastest 5000m runner in the world in 2014, will be bidding to take his second Cinque Mulini title two years after winning a close sprint ahead of Bahrain’s Albert Rop. The young Ethiopian runner, then a teenager, went on to win the IAAF World Cross Country Championships junior men’s bronze medal in Bydgoszcz a few weeks later.
He showed his recent good form winning two top Italian road races, the Giro di Trento and the Boclassic in Bolzano and he will be looking to do better than 12 months ago in this race when he could only finish fifth in the defence of his title.
Birech dominated last year’s Diamond Race in the 3000m steeplechase and clocked the fastest time in the world in 2014, and the seventh fastest time in history, with 7:58.41 at the IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels last September.
Two more Kenyan runners, Alex Kibet and Thomas Lokomwa, are also part of the elite men’s field.
Kibet, winner of the last two editions of the Lotto Cross Cup in Brussels, will return to San Vittore Olona where he finished runner-up last year to his compatriot Paul Tanui last year.
Lokomwa is well known to Italian cross country and road running fans. Last year, he finished third in San Vittore Olona and won the Stramilano Half Marathon.
Poland’s 2014 European Championships 3000m steeplechase silver medallist Krystian Zalewski as well as the Italian runners Patrick Nasti and Marouan Razine will lead the European challenge.
If the odds are very long that European runners will take the honours in the men’s race, they are significantly short in the women’s contest.
Steel looking to shine
Great Britain’s Gemma Steel completed her set of medals at the European Cross Country Championships last December in Samokov, Bulgaria, finally winning the gold medal after bronze in 2011 and the silver medal in 2013.
Steel will run the Cinque Mulini for the third time in her career after finishing sixth in 2011 and second behind Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon in 2014.
She continued her good form after Samokov when won the Sao Silvestre Vallecana 10km race in Madrid on 31 December but then had an off-day in her last outing at the Great Edinburgh XCountry, another IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting, and could only finish 11th at that event last month.
Portugal’s Dulce Felix is a complete distance runner who is able to run well on the track, over cross country and on the road. It will also be the third time in San Vittore Olona for her, after finishing third in 2010 and second in 2011.
Africa will be represented by Kenya’s Viola Jelagat and Uganda’s Mercyline Chelangat while Italian hopes will be carried by former European junior champion Silvia La Barbera, recently a winner at the Villa Lagarina cross country race in Rovereto, and 3000m steeplechaser Valeria Roffino.
The Cinque Mulini will celebrate the 45th edition of its women’s race.
The first time was in 1971 when Great Britain’s Rita Ridley won. Since then, among the winners have been five Olympic champions. France’s Colette Besson, Soviet Union’s Lyudmila Bragina, Italy’s Gabriella Dorio, Romania’s Maricica Puica and Ethiopia’s Derartu Tulu have all added their names to the roll of honour of the Cinque Mulini women’s race.
Norwegian distance running legend Grete Waitz won in San Vittore Olona with a record six titles between 1978 and 1984 and described the Cinque Mulini as “the most beautiful cross country in the world,” it’s name translating as the Five Mills race and, indeed, the runners go through the some of the aforementioned buildings.
The Olympic men’s champions who have run through the famous Meraviglia and Cozzi mills include the likes of Billy Mills, Kipchoge Keino, Mamo Wolde, Lasse Viren, John Walker, Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe, Alberto Cova, Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF