28 Feb

Bring Cross Country Back To The Olympics

The Winter Olympics has been and gone and we reluctantly face up to another four long years before we become a nation of curling experts again.

As well as the four-yearly thrill of snow and ice disciplines, there is another nagging thought that each Winter Olympics always leave me with.

Why is cross country running not part of the Games? It takes place in the right season, it is an athletic sport and has huge international relevance.

Unlike the majority of Winter Olympic disciplines, it is also a sport that has genuine global reach and not just the preserve of developed nations with their skin suits and high-performance centres.

Cross country running would also not be entirely new to the Olympic programme, having been in the Summer Olympics from 1912 to 1924. Were it to be reinstated as an Olympic sport, it could also potentially bring with it some genuine sporting superstars. Mo Farah at the Winter Olympics anyone?

Of course, it’s not just what cross country could bring to the Olympics. It’s what the Olympics could bring to cross country running. Today, alongside the glamour of track and field international championships in packed stadiums or the big city marathon road races, cross country running has become the poor cousin of the athletics family.

In contrast to its high-profile cousins, the World Cross Country Championships has been reduced to a biennial event in comparative backwaters. That’s a real shame, because the sport has a rich heritage with organised championships having a history stretching back over 180 years in England.

Some of the sport’s great names like Paula Radcliffe, Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele and Sonia O’Sullivan first made their marks in the sport on the turfed surface. So quite simply why not? If snow and ice are non-negotiables for the IOC, then fine, the test of cross country running is at its purest when the elements are at their most challenging.

If the Winter Olympics are to be a truly global event and a true reflection of the planet’s leading winter-only disciplines, then surely the time has come to reinstate cross country running to its rightful place?