Selemon Barega leads the men's race at the Cinque Mulini (Giancarlo Colombo) © Copyright
Preview San Vittore Olona, Italy

Defending champions Barega and Degefa face tough opposition at Cinque Mulini

Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega and Beyenu Degefa will return to the Cinque Mulini in San Vittore Olona to defend their titles at the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting, which will be held for the 86th year on Sunday (11).

Barega will renew his rivalry with world U20 cross-country champion Jacob Kiplimo. Barega beat the young Ugandan in Venta de Banos and Elgoibar but suffered his first defeat of the season three weeks ago in Seville where he had to settle for third place behind Kiplimo, who finished second there.

Barega won gold in the 5000m at the 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships and over 3000m at the IAAF World U18 Championships Nairobi 2017. After placing fifth in the U20 race at last year’s World Cross Country Championships in Kampala, he went on to finish in the same position over 5000m against senior opposition at the IAAF World Championships London 2017. The 18-year-old also set a PB of 12:55.58 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne last summer.

Before taking cross-country gold on home soil last year, Kiplimo had earned the bronze medal in the 10,000m at the 2016 World U20 Championships.

Ethiopia’s Telahun Haile Bekele, who recently won the Vallagarina cross-country race in Rovereto, and Eritrea’s Filmon Ande, who finished fourth at the Campaccio IAAF Cross Country Permit in San Giorgio su Legnano, will also be among the main contenders on Sunday.

Italian hopes will be carried by two-time European U20 cross-country champion Yeman Crippa. The 21-year-old won the European under-23 title last year and took bronze in the U23 race at the European Cross Country Championships in December.

He will be joined by compatriots Yssine Rachik, the national 10km and half marathon champion, and 2013 European junior 10,000m silver medallist Lorenzo Dini.

“It will be a very interesting race,” said 2004 Olympic marathon champion Stefano Baldini, who is now the U23 technical director for the Italian athletics federation (FIDAL). “Barega and Kiplimo are very young but are experienced runners at world level. Crippa has the ability to raise the enthusiasm of Italian athletics fans.”

Two-time world U20 cross-country champion Letesenbet Gidey starts as the favourite in the women’s race.

The Ethiopian, who will turn 20 next month, ran a 5000m PB of 14:33.32 in Rome last year to become the second-fastest junior in history behind Tirunesh Dibaba. On Sunday she will be up against two fellow Ethiopians who have also won medals at global championships.

Degefa, the defending champion, won 3000m gold at the 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships, while 19-year-old Hawi Feysa earned the silver medal in the U20 women’s race at last year’s World Cross Country Championships.

Kenyan steeplechase specialists Norah Tanui and Daisy Jepkemei will ensure the race won’t be dominated by the Ethiopian trio.

Tanui enjoyed a breakthrough season last year, clocking a steeplechase PB of 9:03.70 in Berlin to move to seventh on the world all-time list. More recently she won the Vallagarina cross-country race last month.

Jepkemei, the 2012 world U20 steeplechase champion, beat Tanui two weeks ago at a cross-country race in San Sebastian.

Britain’s 2014 European cross-country champion Gemma Steel, who finished second at the Cinque Mulini four years ago, is also in the field, along with Italian 5000m champion Valeria Roffino and Federica Dal Ri, the Italian champion in the marathon and at cross country.

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF