Atelew Bekele takes a commanding win at the European XC championships in Velenje (Mark Shearman) © Copyright

2012 Cinque Mulini to celebrate 80th edition on Sunday - Preview

The Cinque Mulini, the final 2012 IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting race, will celebrate its 80th anniversary in San Vittore Olona on Sunday (18). It will be a special edition for the legendary northern Italian race which has been staged since 1933, even during the Second World War.

To mark this special birthday and to pay respect to distance running legend Grete Waitz, the official poster of this year’s Cinque Mulini features the late Norweagian star, who won six editions of the race (from 1978 to 1982 and in 1984). Waitz, also a nine-time New York City Marathon winner, said that the Cinque Mulini is “The most beautiful cross country in the world.”

A special book written by athletics journalist and Cross Country expert Walter Brambilla looks back to the fascinating history of the race through the mills.

Longosiwa and A. Bekele in the men’s race spotlight

The men’s race is expected to be a battle between last year’s 5000m World Championships sixth placer Thomas Longosiwa and 2011 European Cross Country champion Atelaw Bekele from Belgium.

Longosiwa finished fourth in the 2008 Cinque Mulini behind Zersenay Tadese, Eliud Kipchoge and Matthew Kipsiro. He clocked 12:51.95 in the 5000m in Brussels in 2007. The other three Kenyans in this year’s field are Bernard Rotich, who finished third at the Antrim IAAF Cross Country race on 21 January and fourth at the Police Cross Country Championships in Kenya, along with Solomon Kirwa Yego and William Kibor.

Bekele made a major breakthrough last December when he won the European Cross Country title in Velenje. This season he also won in Roeselere (Belgium) and finished second in Brussels, third in Edinburgh and fifth in Antrim. Bekele will renew his battle against his compatriot Bashir Abdi who beat him last week at the Belgian Cross Country Championships. Belgium boasts a solid tradition in the Cinque Mulini claiming five wins thanks to Gaston Roelants in 1968, Emil Puttemans in 1974, Willy Pollunis in 1978 and Leon Schots in 1979 and 1980.

Besides Bekele, this year’s Cinque Mulini will feature another medallist  from the European Cross Country Championships in Velenje. It is José Rocha from Portugal, who finished third in the Slovenian town. The Italian challenge is led by Cross Country veteran Gabriele De Nard, who won his second national Cross Country title in Borgo Valsugana last January and Italian middle distance runners Merihum Crespi and Abdellah Haidane, respectively 1500 and 3000 metres Italian Indoor champions last month.

Jepleting the focus in the women’s race

The stand-out name in the women’s race is Kenyan Prisca Jepleting, who won the 5000m World Championships bronze medal in Osaka 2007 and finished fourth in the 10,000m at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. She has a good pedigree in Cross Country as she finished second in the short course at the 2006 World Country Championships and finished fifth at the 2011 edition in Punta Umbria. This season she won in Alcobendas, Venta de Banos and Amorebieta. The last Kenyan runner to win in San Vittore Olona was 1500m Olympic champion Nancy Langat who won in 2010.

Cherono will take on Moroccan Btissam Lakhoad who finished fourth in the 1500m at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu and won the African Championships bronze medal in the 1500m in Nairobi in 2010.  She dipped under 4 minutes in the 1500m clocking 3:59.35 in Lausanne 2010.

Ines Monteiro from Portugal is the most prominent European name in the field. She won the 10,000m European Challenge in 2009 and 2010 and won the national title in 2010. The last Portuguese runner in San Vittore Olona was Albertina Dias, who scored back-to back wins in 1994 and 1995.

Silvia Weissteiner, who won the Italian Cross Country title in Borgo Valsugana and the short course race at the Italian Cross Country Club Championships in Correggio, Olympic steeplechaser Elena Romagnolo, Agnes Tschurtschenthaler and Federica Dal Ri will fight for national supremacy.

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF