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Cross Country: Das machen die USA um Meilen besser
Guide

Cross Country: The USA does this miles better

Cross country enjoys a completely different status in the USA than in Germany. What could and should Germany learn from the USA when it comes to cross country? We spoke to former college runner-turned-professional athlete Jonny Dahlke.

Words: Sven Rudolph
Photos: Marco Stausberg and NXN 2022

más: You ran cross country both in college in the USA and here in Germany. What is the appeal for you?

Jonny: Clearly the authentic racing man against man or woman against woman. It's not about time because every course is different. It's about mastering the route and defeating your direct opponent. And that is a completely different challenge than a normal road run. That's what makes it exciting: getting involved in the middle of the action.

Why is cross country so much more popular in the USA than in Germany?

The popularity of cross country in the United States is impressive, largely due to the high school and college systems. It is one of the highest-participation sports in the entire U.S. sports system because it appeals equally to men and women. Compared to other sports like American football, where there is no female equivalent, cross country offers an accessible opportunity to be part of a varsity team - which often comes with prestige connected is.

This leads to wider participation, a larger audience and greater interest in sports, both at school and university levels. The organization, professionalism and atmosphere of the Regional and National Cross Country Championships exceeds the level of comparable events in Germany and is actually only comparable to the European Cross Country Championships.

What are the biggest differences in cross country races in the USA and Germany?

There are two main differences. Firstly, the courses and routing in Germany are fundamentally different compared to the USA. Here in Europe the routes are often more technical and harder - mud, obstacles such as hay bales, tree trunks, hard climbs and constant changes of direction. In the USA, the courses tend to be set up on large fields or golf courses and are easy to run. People there sometimes run almost as fast as they do in road races here in Europe and sometimes even use carbon shoes instead of spikes.

And secondly, the fields of participants in the USA are much larger and deeper. In Division I (the highest league in the college system, editor's note) they run the first few kilometers at the Nationals almost all-out, i.e. at a brutal pace. As a result, a narrow, technical course would probably not be possible at all. It has its own character and requires specific skills, perhaps more similar to those required in road running or track. Our cross-country running here in Germany is really a completely different discipline due to the changes in rhythm and different conditions.

How does the college cross country season work?

The college system in the US is less about time and more about placement. Teams earn points based on how their runners place - first place gets one point, second place gets two points, and so on. The team with the lowest total points wins. That's why every place really counts and everyone gives everything for their team.

(The team standings are updated and shown in real time during the broadcast, allowing you to cheer for the teams. At this year's NCAA Cross Country Championships, the NC State women's team won by just one point over the Northern Arizona team, Editor's note)

Normally five runners are counted, but at the major championships there are seven and the best five results count. In the event of a tie, sometimes even the sixth or seventh runner comes into play, and there is also a backup runner who travels with them. At some universities it can be hard to even get on the competition team. Even on my Division II team at the U niversity of Mount Olive, competition was extremely strong. We even had 4-5 runners who could run under 31 minutes - that was really amazing compared to Germany, where it is often difficult to get three runners together for a team.

What could cross country events in Germany learn from the USA?

Definitely everything about the event flair. Here our cross-country races are often small and unspectacular. The surroundings, the whole atmosphere - there could be more. With social media and live streams you could really mix it up and make things much more present. The associations and clubs could take more initiative to make the events more exciting. If you look at the competition formats in the USA or in European Athletics (Speed ​​Cross, Relays, or the Mixed Teams Relays) there is some cool stuff there, and I wish we had stuff like that here at the national level too.

“A big event, maybe another European Championship in Germany, that would be something!”

It would be great if we could get more people who love running to come along to a cross-country run. There are a lot of people at the start of road races and cross is actually just running, just off-road. A big event, maybe a European Championship in Germany again, that would be something! It's not as big as a European Athletics Championships or World Championships, but rather a cool day of competition with a tough program.

Due to the high school and college system in the USA, cross country has completely different requirements. How the discipline in Germany could still be made more attractive and appealing for athletes and spectators can be found in the next article “Cross European Championships and Potential in Germany”

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