Leonard Kipkemoi Bett wins the Cinque Mulini (© Giancarlo Colombo)
Kenyan Leonard Bett will be gunning for a successful title defence at the 89th edition of Cinque Mulini on Sunday (28), the historic race in the northern Italian city of San Vittore Olona which serves as the second leg of the 2021 World Athletics Cross Country Permit series.
The 20-year-old Bett won the 2020 edition of the Cinque Mulini holding off Tadese Worku by just one second after a neck-and-neck race. His solid pedigree includes a fourth place finish in the U20 race at the 2019 World Cross Country Championships and a world U18 title in the 2000m steeplechase in 2017.
Bett will take on Ethiopia’s Muktar Edris, the two-time world 5000m champion who won this race in 2013 and in 2015. The 27-year-old has raced sparingly during the pandemic, but did make clock a notable 59:04 at the New Delhi Half Marathon in November.
Ethiopia’s Nibret Melak will be aiming to reach another top-three finish seven days after a second place showing at the Campaccio Cross Country behind Jacob Kiplimo. Melak won the 2020 and 2021 Jan Meda International Cross Country races in Ethiopia and won the 5000m at the Olympic candidate trial competition in January beating Edris.
The last Ethiopian winner in San Vittore Olona was Selemon Barega in 2017.
Another favourite is Uganda’s Oscar Chelimo, bronze medallist in the U20 race at the 2019 World Cross Country Championships and 3000m champion at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games. The 19-year-old won the Boclassic 5km road race on New Year’s Eve and finished third at the Campaccio behind his brother Kiplimo and Melak.
Morhad Amdouni of France, the 2018 European 10,000m champion, will make his debut at the Cinque Mulini. The 33-year-old clocked 59:40 at the World Half Marathon Championships in October and more recently finished fourth at the Monaco Run 5k clocking 13:19.
Eyob Faniel will carry Italian hopes one week after finishing fourth at the Campaccio.
“My goal is to become the first Italian runner to reach the podium at the Cinque Mulini since Stefano Baldini in 2005,” said Faniel, who broke Baldini’s national marathon record with a 2:07:19 run in Seville last year. Faniel also broke the national record in the half marathon, clocking 1:00:07 at the Tuscany Camp Half Marathon race in Siena on 28 February.
Other Italian runners to watch include 2018 European steeplechase bronze medallist Yohannes Chiappinelli, 2019 World Mountain Running Championships silver medallist Cesare Maestri, three-time Italian 5000m champion Marouan Razine and Sebastiano Parolini, who took the win in the short course race at the 2021 Campaccio.
Can Gemechu’s momentum continue?
The women’s race will feature a re-match of the U20 race at the 2019 World Cross Country Championships where Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet edged Ethiopia’s Alemitu Tariku in a dramatic finish. Chebet, who also raced to 5000m gold at the 2018 World U20 Championships, will be aiming to become the first Kenyan winner at this race since 2016 when Faith Kipyegon prevailed a few months before she took the Olympic 1500m title.
Tariku, the 5000m bronze medallist at the 2019 African Games, will try to continue the proud Ethiopian tradition at the Cinque Mulini, hoping to follow in the footsteps of 2018 winner Letesenbet Gidey, who broke the 5000m world record last year.
But her compatriot Tsehay Gemechu will be gunning for another cross country triumph on Italian soil, one week after her impressive victory at the Campaccio. In 2019 Gemechu finished sixth at the World Cross Country Championships and fourth in the 5000m at the World Championships with a 14:29.60 lifetime best.
Kenya’s Sheila Chelangat is looking to continue her good period of form after winning the national cross country title in Ngong in February. Chelangat won 3000m bronze at the 2015 World U18 Championships and was fourth in the U20 race at the World U20 Cross Country Championships in 2017.
The line-up also includes Burundi’s Francine Nyomukunzi, who won the Italian Cross Country Club Championships and finished fourth at the Campaccio this year, Giovanna Epis, who won the Italian marathon title in Reggio Emilia with 2:28:03 last year, and Nicole Svetlana Reina, Italian short cross country champion this year.
The Cinque Mulini race has been held every year since 1933, even during the Second World War. The organisers of the local club Unione Sportiva San Vittore Olona have decided to continue its tradition despite the restrictions caused by the global pandemic, to send a positive message to the local community during such a challenging period.
Thirty-six Olympic champions have competed in the Cinque Mulini which was honoured with a World Athletics Heritage Plaque in 2019.
Diego Sampaolo for World Athletics