The history of cross country running
Cross country running originates back to England as early as 1837, when schools began competitions against each other in the sport. The first championship was held in 1867 and from there, it was introduced to the Olympic Games in 1912. Cross country was a popular event for the Games, however in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, a heatwave on event day resulted in only 15 of the 38 runners in the final reaching the finish line, with the rest needing to be rescued by medics. The public were so horrified at the conditions the cross country athletes endured that Olympic officials ruled to ban cross country running from future Games (though it remained a part of the modern Olympic pentathlon).
Fast-forward to nearly a hundred years later: cross country has returned and for the first time, will appear in the 2018 Youth Olympics in Argentina, with rumors this will then pave the way for it at a future Olympic Games.
Popularity of the sport has always bubbled below the surface thanks to schools continuing to race and compete in the discipline since its beginning, though it’s mainstream appeal has had a general increase over the last 30 years especially. The mixed terrain of forests and fields and race distances that an “average” runner can accomplish without much effort (12km for men’s and 8km for women’s at the professional level), mean it is a sport accessible to all. Many people describe cross country as one of the “purest” forms of running and that the cross country championships – held every two years in March – is seen one of the world’s most difficult races to win because of its low barrier of entry. Many of those who do top the cross-country podium have gone on to win at the Olympics in various disciplines over the years.
Cousin to cross country, and still well practiced across the globe is orienteering – the sport of navigating maps to locate and run to key points in a timed race through forests and outdoor courses. On athlete and World Champion Matthias Kyburz shared his tips for orienteering with us here, relevant to anyone looking to better their outdoor running skills in general. More recently, cross country has led to the birth of “trail running” – taking the competition courses further into rough and mountainous terrain from the relatively flatter, open fields and forests of traditional cross country running.