Cross Country in the Winter Games? Let’s Just Chill

Every four years, around the middle of February, the same old cry goes up on running blogs and message boards everywhere: Make cross country a sport in the Winter Olympics.

Kirui_gebre_bostonWhile the balmy conditions that enveloped Sochi for much of the XXII Winter Games might make that proposal seem plausible, looked at from any number of more realistic points of view it’s obvious that there’s a better chance of baseball returning to the Olympic list, with the Cubs representing the United States. In short, when Hell joins the rest of continental America this winter and freezes over.

First, in case you haven’t noticed, there are certain requirements for a sport to be included in the Winter Olympics. First and foremost, it has to be a sport that is contested in winter. And while it might be argued that XC is indeed a winter sport in Europe and the rest of the world, and even, as was evidenced in Boulder last week, occasionally in the U.S., it doesn’t really qualify.

That’s because the second requirement of a Winter Olympic sport is that it must be contested on either ice or snow (or in the case of some of the Sochi venues, slush). And while the World Cross Country Championships have sometimes been run across snowy, frozen ground (witness Boston in 1992), the preferred surface is grass or dirt, although large quantities of the liquid variety of water are permitted, and in the eyes of some, desired.
Also, a Winter Olympic sport requires some sort of equipment, whether it’s skates, skis, a bobsled or a curling stone. With a pair of spikes the only real equipment needed for cross country, it barely makes the cut in that department.

But the real reason that cross country will never be a sport in the Winter Olympics, or even the summer version for that matter, is there just isn’t the interest.

Before you go dashing of emails of protest, look at the facts. The IAAF, which has managed the World Championships for four decades, recently made the decision to change the event from an annual one to an every other year schedule. The reason, if not officially stated, was that fewer and fewer countries, especially from Europe, the birthplace of the sport, were bothering to send full or even partial teams. And the reason for that is that they’ve gotten tired of fighting for third place after the Kenyans and Ethiopians have finished deciding who’s going to be first and second for that year.

Of course, perhaps a good dose of arctic air and freezing sleet might slow the East Africans down to near-human levels, and give the rest of the world a fighting chance to break up their traditional worl-class dual meet. So maybe the people calling for cross country to become a Winter Olympic sport may be on to something after all.
OK, forget what I said about it being a dumb idea. Where do I sign the petition?


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