Soufiane El Bakkali (1) in action at the Almond Blossom Cross Country in Albufeira (© Armando Caiadas)
Soufiane El Bakkali and Jairus Birech are among the many talented steeplechase specialists set to compete at the 87th edition of the Cinque Mulini in San Vittore Olona, the eighth leg of the current IAAF Cross Country Permit series.
El Bakkali finished second in his first appearance at the Cinque Mulini in 2017 behind Selemon Barega and went on to earn the silver medal in the steeplechase at the IAAF World Championships London 2017. Last summer the 23-year-old Moroccan bettered eight minutes in the steeplechase for the first time in his career, clocking 7:58.15 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco to move to 10th on the world all-time list.
El Bakkali will face Kenyan steeplechase rival Jairus Birech, who won the Cinque Mulini in 2016 and finished third in 2015. The two-time Diamond trophy winner was bumped out of the world all-time steeplechase top 10 by El Bakkali and trails the Moroccan 3-4 in their career head-to-head.
More recently, Birech finished second at the Boclassic 10km road race in Bolzano and at the Vallagarina Cross Country race in Rovereto last week.
Uganda’s Albert Chemutai, another steeplechase specialist, is an emerging prospect. He finished fourth in that event at the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018 and was third at the recent Campaccio IAAF Permit Cross Country Permit meeting in San Giorgio su Legnano behind Hagos Gebrhiwet and Selemon Barega.
The line-up also features another Ugandan rising talent, Youth Olympic Games 3000m champion Oscar Chelimo. The 17-year-old finished third at the recent Boclassic 10km road race in Bolzano, beating world 5000m champion Muktar Edris. Chemutai and Chelimo will try to follow in the footsteps of their compatriot Jacob Kiplimo, who won the 2018 edition of the Cinque Mulini.
Ethiopia will be represented by two-time world U20 steeplechase bronze medallist Getnet Wale.
Yeman Crippa, Yohanes Chiappinelli and 2014 European marathon champion Daniele Meucci will carry the hopes of Italian fans. Crippa, twice a European U20 cross-country champion, earned European 10,000m bronze last year, while his teammate and close friend Chiappinelli took bronze in the steeplechase.
Rising star Gloria Kite leads the women’s field. The 19-year-old Kenyan came to the fore at the start of the current IAAF Cross Country Permit series with impressive wins in Soria and Alcobendas. On Sunday she will wear bib number 6, which is traditionally given by organisers to the pre-event favourite.
Kite will face strong opposition from Bahrain’s world U20 steeplechase bronze medallist Winfred Mutile Yavi, who last year clocked an Asian U20 steeplechase record of 9:10.74 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco.
Ethiopia’s 2016 world U20 1500m champion Adanech Anbesa is also expected to challenge for top honours.
Teenager Nadia Battocletti carries the Italian challenge. Last month in Tilburg, the 18-year-old became the first Italian woman to win an individual gold medal at the European Cross Country Championships.
Great Britain’s 2014 European cross-country champion Gemma Steel, Portugal’s 2012 European 10,000m champion Ana Dulce Felix, European U20 5000m champion Jasmijne Lau of the Netherlands and Italy’s Giulia Viola are also in the field.
Across the 86-year history of the event, 35 Olympic champions have taken part in the historic northern Italian cross-country race. Two of those – Gabriella Dorio and Alberto Cova – attended the pre-event press conference on Tuesday (22) alongside other stars of Italian distance running, including Franco Fava, Gaetano Erba and Francesco Panetta.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF