Ethiopia's Muktar Edris winning at the 2013 Cinque Mulini race (© Gianfranco Colombo)
Last year’s Cinque Mulini winner Mukhtar Edris will defend his title at the eighth meeting of this winter’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series but will face a stiff challenge in the Italian town of San Vittore Olona from Kenya’s in-form Paul Tanui on Sunday (24).
Edris, still only 20, will be looking to score a back-to-back win in the 82nd edition of the famous race, after his thrilling victory last year against Bahrain’s Albert Rop.
The world junior 5000m champion from Ethiopia followed up his win at the Cinque Mulini race with an IAAF World Cross Country Championships junior men’s bronze medal in Bydgoszcz, Poland, last March. During the summer, he finished seventh in the 5000m final at the IAAF World Championships and clocked his 5000m personal best of 13:03.69 in Ostrava.
Tanui, the silver medallist at the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria in 2011 and the 2013 IAAF World Championships 10,000m bronze medallist, comes to San Vittore Olona in good form as he won convincingly in Seville last Sunday.
Among the other challengers will be Spain’s two-time European cross-country champion Alemayehu Bezabeh, Ethiopia’s Yuhuniligin Amsalu Adane and Kenya’s Alex Kibet.
Bezabeh won his second European cross-country title in Belgrade last month but was less impressive when finishing only ninth at the Edinburgh IAAF Permit meeting earlier this month.
Amsalu Adane, still only 17, beat the world junior cross-country champion Hagos Gebrehiwot, a race in which he finished 13th, at the Ethiopian Cross Country Club Championships in December, while Kibet, 23, won the IAAF Cross Country Permit event in Brussels last December.
Italian hopes are carried by Michele Fontana, eighth in the under-23 race at the 2013 European Cross Country Championships, European under-23 steeplechase silver medallist Giuseppe Gerratana and 2014 WMRA World Mountain Running Championships junior men’s gold medallist Nekagenet Crippa.
The women’s race will be highlighted by the clash between two world-class 1500m specialists, Kenya’s Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon and the USA’s Jenny Simpson.
Kipyegon also won the junior women’s title at the past two editions of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Last year, she clocked her 1500m personal best of 3:56.98 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha and finished fifth at the IAAF World Championships over this distance in Moscow.
Simpson was the 2011 World 1500m champion and took the silver medal in Moscow in the 1500m. The last US runner to win in San Vittore Olona was former world cross-country champion Lynn Jennings, who got back-to-back victories in 1986 and 1987.
Another top name to watch out for is Great Britain’s European cross-country silver medallist Gemma Steel, who won in Edimburgh earlier this month. She finished sixth in her first appearance at the Cinque Mulini in 2011.
The Italian challenge is led by cross-country specialist Valeria Roffino and former 5000m European junior champion Silvia La Barbera.
The Cinque Mulini’s long history began in 1933 when Giovanni Malerba, the founder of the Cinque Mulini race, memorably convinced his friends to shovel clear a snow-covered course to enable runners to take part in the first edition.
No fewer than 33 Olympic champions have participated since the Cinque Mulini race became an international race in 1952.
Eight Olympic gold medallists have won this race: USA’s Billy Mills (1965), Belgium’s Gaton Roelants (1968), Kenya’s Kipchoge Keino (1969), and his compatriots Naftali Temu (1970) and John Ngugi (1989), USA’s Frank Shorter (1973), Alberto Cova, the last Italian winner in San Vittore Olona in 1986, and Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele (2002).
Norway’s legendary distance runner Grete Waitz, who set a record of six victories in San Vittore Olona, once described the Cinque Mulini as the most beautiful cross-country circuit in the world.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF