Cross Country: From underdog to new source of excitement in running?
The European Championships in Brussels enchanted me and showed that cross country has great potential for excitement, stories and spectacle. Nevertheless, discipline hardly plays a role in most European countries and for many it is just a gap filler between seasons. You can read how this could be changed here.
Words: Sven Rudolph
Photos: Florian Kurrasch
In my “running career” so far, I have taken part in numerous running events and have recently often been there as a spectator or reporter for más. But I rarely have such a good atmosphere experienced like at the European Cross Country Championships in Brussels. Given the enthusiasm for cross country locally, I wonder why events like this don't happen more often.
Perhaps cross country lacks appeal for athletes due to its specialization, lack of financial support and the fact that it is not an Olympic event. However, based on the impressions I gained from last week, I imagine that a realignment of cross country and track could work in combination and make the disciplines more competitive again compared to road competitions. The successful team dynamics and the enthusiasm with athletes in the USA and also at the European Cross Championships show that a similar structure can also be successful in other places.
“It's an experience that brings strength during winter and offers a refreshing break from the track.”
In the interviews conducted on site, everyone agreed: Cross Country is good and important for the sport. Fans enjoy cheering on the runners together with friends. Coaches value not only the strengthening of team spirit, but also the improvement of the mental and physical strength of their athletes through this discipline. And the athletes themselves see cross country as a refreshing alternative to track and appreciate the simplicity of this sport. The shift in focus from timekeeping to positioning is perceived as liberating and brings with it a different kind of exhaustion and joy.
“I like about cross country that it's not time based. So it's actually just about racing one on one and it's different every single time. You don’t know what to expect.”
Combining cross country and track for a year-round series
The establishment of cross races as independent events for which both amateur and professional runners prepare specifically and which attract similarly large crowds as is the case with marathons may sound utopian. However, the idea of a complete cross country season with professional teams formed for this purpose and its own league system, comparable to Formula 1, the Biathlon World Cup or the Triathlon Super League, sounds more promising. That's why this idea is already regularly discussed in numerous podcasts and forums (e.g. Citiusmag, Coffeeclub or Trackstaa) around the world. But here too, numerous factors are required to implement this.
“It's the rawest form of our sport, stripping away the technologies and focusing solely on racing and position. You can’t beat it and it has a really freeing feeling for me.”
A realistic first step could be to rethink and redesign existing formats. You could combine cross country with track and thus link the different worlds of running together. The vision would be continuous evaluation with a defined competition plan throughout the year, in which indoor competitions, the outdoor track season and cross country are an integral part. The fact that more diverse athletes and teams have a better chance of winning as their performances are evaluated across multiple events could lead to more intense and exciting competition.
New format for more competitiveness and viewer interest
At the club level in Germany or on the European stage, a continuous annual ranking with corresponding budgets and bonuses could be introduced to create incentives for athletes to also take part in cross country races and collect points for team or individual success. The integration of various running disciplines into an overarching competition format would increase the relevance of the individual disciplines, create a connection between the different seasons and bring with it the advantages of a series format.
“Cross country is just brutally honest. It’s not easy for anyone and that’s why on the one hand it’s really fun, but on the other hand it’s really painful.”
In this way, athletes and teams could be motivated to take part in these races and the series character would ensure continuity and recognition. These characteristics could, in turn, increase viewer interest as there are more opportunities to participate in or follow multiple events and identify with individual athletes or teams. More viewers and greater interest would be exciting for sponsors and media, who could be more closely involved.
Definitely a task with many challenges, but with at least as much potential to change something in running and, with the right people, to master it. If anyone has feedback, ideas or would like to discuss the topic further, please send me a message!
See you next time!
Sven Rudolph // @rrrudolph