It’s 50 years since the World Cross Country Championships was first staged but, as the final touches are made to Bathurst, there are concerns that the combination of time and place may not help the event thrive
The World Cross Country Championships was long known as the greatest footrace on earth, for the reason that it brought together the whole world of elite running, from the middle-distance specialists up to the marathon legends. It was a unique clash of the biggest names from all surfaces.
Today, the strength in depth of distance running has never been greater but it is now a very different world.
In case you haven’t heard, the 44th World Athletics Cross Country Championships is soon to be with us (it’s 50 years since the first one) and, for the first time in many years, it’s taking place in mid-February – Saturday 18 to be precise – about a month before its traditional late March slot. This fifth edition of the championships to be taking place in the southern hemisphere is being staged at Mount Panorama – a venue better known for motor racing rather than the fleet of foot – just outside Bathurst, Australia, roughly 100 miles west of Sydney.
Yes, that’s right. Australia, in February, which is their high summer. Perhaps not what you might associate with a discipline which has its roots in winter.
I am sympathetic to the need to move this event around the world – and primarily for reasons of cost, there aren’t so many places bidding to host it these days – but I also remain disappointed that it looks set to be held around a parched Australian hillside with temperatures probably in the mid to high twenties centigrade.
Cross country running should ask different questions of participants to the challenges of flat road and track summer racing, and while hills tend to be year-round physical features, cool temperatures, a muddy and unpredictable surface, combined with twists and turns and other surface variations, are more common in a real winter. For me, at least, these are ideally non-negotiables. Otherwise, what’s the point?
To be frank, a global cross country championships should no more be staged in the middle of the Australian summer than a global outdoor track championships should be held in the UK in mid-January.
» Tim Hutchings won a silver medal at the World Cross Country Championships in 1984 and 1989 and nowadays works as an athletics broadcaster
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