Kenyan stars Jairus Birech and Faith Kipyegon took the honours at the 84th edition of the Cinque Mulini meeting, the sixth of this winter’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series, in the northern Italian town of San Vittore Olona on a sunny Sunday afternoon (31).
Birech, the 2014 and 2015 Diamond Race 3000m steeplechase winner, held off Bahrain’s Aweke Ayalew to win by two seconds in 34:38 after a sprint finish at the end of the 11.5km race.
Birech and Ayalew were out on their own almost from the start of the men’s race. They went through the first lap mark in 8:08, carving out an eight-second lead over Kenya’s world junior cross-country silver medallist Geoffrey Korir.
The pair then forced the pace further during the second lap, opening up a huge gap of 31 seconds over Korir, with Birech mainly running in front and Ayalew on his heels. The leaders went through the second lap in 16:28.
Birech and Ayalew increased their advantage over Korir to 35 seconds during the third lap. Ayalew went to the front at the bell as the third lap was completed in 25:55, and they then dueled throughout the final lap until 300 metres to go, when Birech launched a devastating kick at the entrance of the sports ground where the finish was placed.
Korir, still only 19, finished a distant third in 35:24 with Uganda’s world mountain-running champion Fred Musobo fourth in 35:44.
Italy’s Lorenzo Dini, the 2013 European junior 10,000m silver medallist, was the first European to cross the finish line in fifth place, stopping the clock in 35:46.
“I am happy to come back to the Cinque Mulini after finishing third last year," said Birech. "The course was not as hard as last year."
Kipyegon regains women's title
World 1500m silver medallist and two-time world junior cross-country champion Kipyegon won the 5.6km women’s race at a canter in 18:15 with a huge gap of 48 seconds over world junior 5000m silver medallist Alemitu Hawi from Ethiopia.
Kipyegon won the Cinque Mulini race for the second time in her career, repeating her triumph in 2014.
In comparison to the close men’s race, the women’s competition was always a one-sided affair with Kipyegon in a clear lead from the start. Only Hawi managed to stay with the Kenyan during the first lap.
Kipyegon, who wore the bib number six traditionally given by the organisers to the favourite, then increased her pace during the second lap, building up a gap of 17 seconds over Hawi.
She continued to increase her advantage after the bell and ran a solitary final lap while cruising to an impressive win in 18:15.
Kipyegon scored her second win in the IAAF Cross Country Permit Series after taking the honours in Seville two weeks ago. Hawi finished runner-up in 19:03 with a gap of 10 seconds to Uganda’s Mercyline Chelangat in third place.
“It was a tough course but I liked it," said Kipyegon. "It was my last cross-country race of the season before starting my preparation for the track season where I aim at a medal at the Olympic Games."
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF