Cross Country is one of the most essential sports disciplines. Observing the Belgrade 2024 WA Cross Country this year, it was obvious that European teams are reconsidering competing in the World event. This has many reasons, but the key is for those who love discipline, coaches, athletes, fans, and officials to admit that a problem can be fixed. 

Here are my observations and suggestions, in no actual order. 

 

 

Six Thoughts on the World Cross Country Championships

1. Cross country is one of the oldest traditions in our sport. Founded in England in the 18th century, perhaps even before, it is a simple yet challenging sport that requires athletes to push themselves to their limits.

2. In the United States, over 560,000 high school boys and girls competed in high school cross country in 2023. The seasons end with state meets FootLocker Cross Country, NIKE NXN, and USATF junior championships.

2023 Footlocker, presented by HOKA, photo by Bob Bettencourt

3. The NCAA Cross Country, Division 1, has almost cult-like status among fans. ESPN hosts a two-hour live broadcast sponsored and produced by USTFCCCA. Substantial broadcast numbers, but to this day, none of the brands that make millions off running have come forward to help support the programming.

4. The European Athletics Cross Country Championships is one of the largest annual continental championships. Most of the EAA members participate, although there is some grumping about recent transfers of allegiance. European Athletics courses are muddy and grueling, and they give the athletes of Europe a chance to battle against each other over wonderfully tricky courses.

The 2021 SPAR European Athletics Cross Country Championships, 12/12/21, Senior Men’s race, photo courtesy of European Athletics (via @twitter)

5. Seb Coe, President of World Athletics, is championing a move to determine if cross country could become a part of the Winter Olympics. Coe also wants to move the global cross-country season into the winter months instead of the early spring, where the courses have been no more than glorified road races in hot and humid conditions over recent years.

6. At the recent 2024 World Cross Country Championships, many European countries did not even send one competitor. Many reasons were cited, among them the pasteurization of the courses, which offers only athletes with leg speed and the ability to withstand heat and humidity over 10k. To bring the world together, Seb Coe and WA must look at making the season earlier, returning challenging courses to the schedule, and encouraging the continent that gave the sport its start to continue to support one of the most primal parts of our sport or watch it wither away.

BELGRADE, SERBIA – MARCH 30: Berehanu Tsegu of Ethiopia, Jacob Kiplimo, Leonard Chemutai, and Joshua Chptegei of Uganda, Samwel Chebolei Masai and Benson Kiplangat of Kenya competed in the Men’s Senior race during the World Athletics Cross Country Championships Belgrade 2024 on March 30, 2024 in Belgrade, Serbia.
(Photo by © Adam Nurkiewicz for World Athletics

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