History of Cross Country Running

Cross-country is a running sport that consists of at least five scoring runners per team that race against each other in courses that vary in difficulty.   What makes cross-country different to any other running competition, is the courses could consist of open terrain, grass, mud, sand, and even vary in hills.

My husband coaches cross-country at the local high school.  One day while cheering the boys on I was wondering how cross-country started.

The length in courses varies in each school and/or University.   For men, the courses could be anywhere from 3.1 miles (5K high school) to 6.2 miles (10K college), and for the women, the races are 3.1 miles(5K – high school) to 6K in college.

Scoring is different from any other sport,  the less points each team has the better.   No matter how many athletes there are on a team, only 5 teammates score and the points equal the place the runner would finish in the race.  For example, if a runner were to finish in 3rd place, that runner would get 3 points.   All five runners’ points would be added up at the end of the race and the team with the least amount of points is the winner.

The sport can be dated back to the 1800s in England when it was a team sport in public schools.   At that time, the sport was named “Hare and Hounds” or “The Paper Chase”. The sport would consist of a group of runners that would lay a trail of paper or other devices to mark a trail and another group of runners would follow the trail.   In 1837, the first competition was held at Rugby School,  later  the sport had a course that was pre set over open  land.   The sport became so popular in England in the later 1800s that  in 1876 the English National Cross-Country Championship took place.

A year later, The United States was introduced to the sport and the National Cross-Country Association was founded as well as the Amateur Athletic Association began, which began holding the yearly National Championship.   It did not take long for the Universities in the United States to pick up the sport.   Harvard was the first University to hold a cross-country team and many other Universities followed.

Not many years later, cross-country started its first international races.   England and France were the first to compete internationally, along with Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.   Finally in the early 20th Century, cross-country finally became a sport in the Olympic Games, but did not last long, as the sport was not considered to be appropriate for competition in the summer games.

Although cross-country was not successful in the summer Olympics Games,  it did grow to be a successful sport in the NCAA.   NCAA had the first  national events in 1938.

The IAAF is known as one of the hardest cross-country races in the world.  Unlike the traditional cross-country races, there are four different races. These races consist of the Men’s 12km, Woman’s 8km, and also Junior Woman’s 6km and Junior Men’s 6km. The scoring is based on whether you are on a National Team, which meant team scoring the same as the four races listed above,  or many race as individuals for their times and placement.

Paul Kibii Tergot, who was born in Kenya on  June 17, 1969, was the first man to ever win the IAAF Cross County Championship five times in a row.  He later went on to be an accomplished marathon runner.   Lynn Jennings,  United States, won this race three times.   Grete Waitz a  Norwegian runner,  was the first woman to win the Championship five times in a row. She also went on to become a marathoner and participated in the 1984 Olympics.

Another great runner that has made the sport popular was Steve Prefontaine.   Although he was known mainly for his track and field accomplishments, he started off as being the best cross-country runner at his high school in Coos Bay, Oregon in the United States.  Steve Prefontaine, or better known as “Pre” went on to Run for University of Oregon and held 3 NCAA cross-country titles from 1970-1973.   At that time he was only the second runner to have that accomplishment.  The United States has had its share of standout  cross-country runners including  Pat Porter, who had won eight titles in the 1980’s. Don Lash, from Bluffton, Indiana who won seven consecutive National Championships from 1934 – 1940.

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