Cross country for the Winter Olympics

10 reasons why cross country running should have been in the Sochi 2014 programme

English National Cross Country, Sunderland 2013, by Mark Shearman

From bobsleigh to biathlon, snowboarding to speed skating, figure skating to freestyle skiing, there is plenty going on in Sochi to entertain most people. Yet this month’s games are missing one of the most traditional winter sports of all – cross country running.

Here are 10 reasons why cross country running should be in the Winter Olympics…

1 Olympic origins

Cross country used to be part of the Summer Olympic programme many years ago, but it was scrapped – in controversial and arguably unfair circumstances – following the 1924 Paris Games.

Unseasonably hot weather in the French capital, together with the course being near an industrial chimney that was spewing out fumes, led to 23 of the 38 starters failing to finish the race. The disastrous nature of the race caused so much alarm, the sport was pulled out of the Games – and it has never returned.

2 African inclusion

Staging cross-country races in the Winter Olympics would be a great way for the International Olympic Committee to get Africa involved in the Winter Games.

Only three countries from Africa – Morocco, Togo and Zimbabwe – are competing in Sochi. But if the IOC introduced cross country running then it would bring sizeable teams from Ethiopia, Kenya and elsewhere.

3 Big name support 

Haile Gebrselassie, Paul Tergat and Kenenisa Bekele wrote a joint letter in 2008 to the IOC arguing that cross country should be part of the Games.

Tergat and Bekele are cross country legends, with many titles between them, but Gebrselassie never won the world cross country title, despite several attempts as a junior and senior in the early to mid-1990s. Yet, despite this, the Ethiopian legend clearly appreciates its value, history and appeal.

4 It promotes healthy values

Cross country is a great sport to encourage globally as it promotes simple fitness and stamina and helps build character. So the more youngsters who see it at the highest level, the more will take it up – and the world will become a healthier place.

Plus the vast majority of the world’s great athletes and triathletes – from Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe to Alistair and Jonny Brownlee – have used it to build endurance during their early years especially.

5 IAAF supports the idea 

Lamine Diack, the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, has backed cross country’s bid to make the Winter Olympics. He has said: “The IOC has written to us to ask our advice and we have told them that we are in favour of it. We are prepared to organise cross country in the Winter Olympics. It would be a good move for our sport.”

Then, at the IAAF’s cross country conference in Belgrade two months ago, the global athletics governing body once again talked its desire to get cross country back into the Olympics.

6 The sport needs help! 

Cross country is in need of a boost. It is struggling for recognition and media coverage is at an all-time low.

Interest in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships has declined massively and millions of runners globally appear far more attracted by the idea of running a road or trail race than putting on spikes and getting their feet muddy. So bringing the sport to everyone’s attention in the Winter Olympics would help breathe life into it.

7 The media is already in town

The BBC alone has Steve Cram, Jonathan Edwards, Paul Dickenson and Rob Walker in Sochi covering the action.

Cram is the BBC’s main athletics commentator and a former world mile record-holder; Edwards is the triple jump world record-holder; Dickenson is one of the world’s best-known athletics commentators; and Walker has commentated on the world cross country championships in recent years for an IAAF feed that has been used by Channel 4, among others. Elsewhere, former world 200m champion Ato Boldon is reporting for NBC in Sochi this month.

So, in effect, the athletics expertise is already out there.

8 There’s room on the calendar 

The IAAF World Cross Country Championships is now held once every two years. There is no event this year, for example, with the next one due to be held in China in March 2015.

This means there is a definite gap on the calendar for a Winter Olympic cross country race. Similarly, the next Winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018 takes place in a year when there is no world cross country championships.

9 Snow problem 

The IOC say Winter Olympic sports must take place on snow and ice. Okay, cross country usually takes place on muddy fields, thick turf or dusty trails, but it has also regularly been seen on snow.

The 1992 World Cross, for example, was on a snowy course in Boston, while the annual international cross country event in Edinburgh is often held on snowy Scottish soil. Plus, the European Cross Country Championships in 2012, held just outside Budapest, was held on very snowy and icy ground with vicious sub-zero temperatures – and it was a huge success.

10 It’s a no-brainer! 

A few years ago Athletics Weekly tried to find a writer who would put forward the case against cross country being in the Olympics, but we failed to find anyone willing to do it!

As one reader tweeted at the time: “Surely there can’t be anybody who thinks it shouldn’t be there? It’s a winter sport, so why on earth not!?”

We rest our case.

>> Jason Henderson tweets at @Jason_AW

8 Responses to “Cross country for the Winter Olympics”

  1. Troy says:

    Out of all 25 Oceanic countries, only 2 are competing.
    Out of all 55 countries in the Americas only 8 are competing.

    Why is it so imperative that Africa be included?? Like many places at low latitudes, Africa isn't known for it's winter sports. It sounds to me like you you're just trying to get the vote from the bleeding hearts crowd.

  2. cjhitz says:

    Love this idea! Let's hope the powers that be will seriously consider it

  3. Cal says:

    Great idea!!! We should really get more people involved in cross-country

  4. stefan says:

    The IOC rules clearly states that sports in the winter Olympics should be on snow or ice.

  5. ralf says:

    Nobody ever excluded Africa. To imply that is extraordinarily disingenuine. Life is about choices. The vast majority of African nations choose to not participate, but nothing prevents them from doing so.

  6. Robert says:

    #1 is invalid – the fact it used to be a Summer Olympic sport does not mean it should become a Winter Olympic sport. If anything, it might make an argument for inclusion in the Summer Olympics, but that it is.
    #2 is invalid – Africa can already compete in the Winter Olympics.
    #3 and #5 are just embarrassing. An appeal to authority is meaningless and not in itself a reason in support of a proposition.
    #4 is invalid. All of the existing winter (and summer) sports already promote healthy values.
    #6 may be true but this does not mean cross country should be included in the Winter (as opposed to the Summer) Olympics, and in any case lots of sports could do with a boost in their profile but it doesn't follow from this that they should be promoted to Olympic level.
    #7 is invalid. The media would go to the Winter Olympics whether you added a new sport or not.
    #8 is invalid. Obviously if a sport were accorded Olympic status then its governing body would make room for the same.
    #9 is not a reason in support but pre-empts a valid objection. As far as I understand the matter, each of the Winter Olympic sports cannot take place on anything other than snow / ice (if one ignores artificialities such as dry slopes). Cross country can and does regularly take place on other surfaces. Football can be played on a snowy pitch but that doesn't make it a winter sport, still less amount to a reason to add it to the Winter Olympics.
    #10 is embarrassing: you are asking someone to prove a negative. Which is impossible. I hope that my points set out above have however illustrated that the arguments you have articulated are insufficient to support your conclusion.

    • Alan says:

      Cross country running is a recognised branch of athletics. It is undertaken in the Winter, often in snow, ice… outdoors. It does not 'fit into' the summer Olypics as the distance runners are doing track and road by then.
      Therefore Cross Counry Running IS a winter sport and has a right to be included in the Winter Oympic Games. The Winter games would be a much more fitting place to hold it than the summer games, the alternative is to say Cross Country running is a 'non event', not worthy of Olympic status when clearly it is a major area that attracts the world's best runners! There should be a place for it in the Winter Games!

  7. Exe says:

    Article 6(2) of the Olympic Charter provides that: "The Olympic Games consist of the Games of the Olympiad and the Olympic Winter Games. Only those sports which are practised on snow or ice are considered as winter sports."

    The key question is accordingly whether "practised on snow or ice" means (1) 'is exclusively practised on snow or ice'; (2) ''is predominantly practised on snow or ice'; or (3) 'can be practised on snow or ice'.

    If (1) is the answer, cross country is not a "winter sport" under the Olympic Charter. Indeed, even if (2) is the answer, I doubt whether cross country qualifies as a "winter sport": one would expect that, factually speaking, cross country is predominantly practised on grassy terrain. That leaves (3). But I can't see this being the answer, since I doubt whether the authors of the Charter intended that any sport which could conceivably take place on snow or ice could qualify as a "winter sport" for the purposes of the Olympics.

    If you look at the list of Winter Olympic sports, they are all (I think…) practised exclusively on snow or ice, which suggests to me that (1) is the correct answer.

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