Should Cross Country Running Be Added to the Winter Olympics?

It’s time for cross country running to be added to the Winter Olympics. At least that’s what the Winter Olympics, the recent US cross country national championships, and a simple question from “The Proton” on Salomon’s Facebook page has us thinking. What do you think? Should cross country running be added to the Olympics? Are the winter games the right venue? Below we’ll share a few thoughts that we think are worth your consideration.

Cross Country is International
The cross country running is an established international sport. When Bydgoszcz, Poland hosts the IAAF World Cross Country Championships at the end of March, it will mark the 38th IAAF World Championships. The first 36 XC World Championships included 10,026 athletes from a staggering 164 different countries.

Cross Country Was an Olympic Sport

You might not know it, but cross country running was included in four early Summer Olympics! Cross country was a team only event in 1904, while both individual and team medals were award in 1912, 1920, and 1924. The gold went to a US team in cross country’s Olympic debut… as did the silver. The New York AC and Chicago AA teams were the only two teams to compete! Just think, any other recognized nation could have brought home an Olympic medal simply by sending a team!

This less than flourishing start did not dissuade organizers from once again including again cross country running in the 1912 summer games. In fact, as noted above, individual medals were awarded in addition to the team honors. Fortunately, a much stronger field assembled for XC’s three subsequent Olympic appearances. Led by Paavo Nurmi, Finland dominated in taking 5 of the 6 golds and 8 of the 18 total medals available from 1912-1924. The Finns’ Nordic neighbor Sweden took another 5 of the 18 medals. The only other countries to ever bring home Olympic cross country medals: US, Great Britain and France.

Cross Country Is an Inclusive Sport
Try to find another sport that is more accessible than cross country. Good luck. It’s the only sport for which one can train with zero equipment and nothing more than the freedom to safely move about land. (Yes, one also needs adequate food, shelter, and time to train, but that goes for any other sport, as well.)

Sure, there are other highly accessible sports such as soccer (one merely needs a ball in the community), but cross country is up there. As evidence, we offer the results of the 2009 men’s senior (read as “open”) team world championship. While unsurprising from the perspective of sports history, Kenya’s win and Ethiopia’s runner-up status show how one need not live in an economic powerhouse to be competitive. However, it’s not Kenya and Ethiopia that we mean to highlight. Instead, consider Eritrea placing third and Uganda fourth. The cross country harriers from these least developed nations humbled the men from Spain (7th) and the US (8th) by placing all four their scoring team members ahead of the Western countries’ top men. All of the technology available in Japan (11th), Portugal (12th), France (13th), the UK (14th), and Canada (17th out of 19), couldn’t stop their countrymen from being schooled by Eritreans and Ugandans.

If you look at the brotherhood of runners rather than the brotherhood nations, you’ll see that it brings all sort of runners together. Many top track  AND road AND trail athletes compete in cross country at the national and international level.

Cross Country Running Is a Winter Sport
Internationally, cross country running is a winter sport and its has a rightful place in the Winter Olympics. Adding XC to the winter games would not simply be a matter of spreading the sport thinner as it would be if the races were added to the summer games. In winter, marathoners, mountain runners, and steeple chasers alike could compete for their countries and for glory without sacrificing their other pursuits.

On the flip side, cross country is NOT a summer sport. At least that’s the reason given for cutting it from the Olympics after the 1924 games.

There is the issue of venue and climate that would need to be addressed if cross country were added to the Olympics. As far as venues go, most Winter Olympic venues now cover large areas and often enough the cross country runs could be held in nearby, lower elevation setting. Finding a cross country course near Vancouver would not have been a problem and we sure as heck would have loved a slickrock showdown in the Salt Lake City winter games.

What if no venue that will likely be snow-free can be found or if snow covers the course? Groom the course, if need be, or, if it would be reasonable, run through it. We’d love to see Bekele float over 6 inches of fresh powder!

Yes, it might very well be cold with or without snow on the course. That’s just win. It’s not like endurance athletes saw ideal competitive conditions at the Athens or Beijing summer games!

As we said earlier, we think cross country running should be added to the Winter Olympics. Heck, we’ve even created a Facebook page calling for cross country to become an Olympic sport! What do you think?

There are 9 comments

  1. Derrick

    I've argued, err..discussed this, on many Canadian running messageboards in the past. The running traditionalists believe that cross country running should be added to the winter Olympics and have always felt that with cross country taking place during the winter months it should be added.

    I strongly disagree with this though. A Winter Olympic sport should be only added to the Olympic program if there is a snow or ice element to it. Is there any other winter Olympic sport that doesn't have a snow/ice requirement? Sure, you can run a XC race on snow, but that is not what makes the sport cross country running.

    A far better choice for a winter 'running' sport to be added to the Olympics would be Snowshoe Running. There has been a recent push with snowshoe running being added. The 'World Snowshoe Invitational' being piggybacked in Vancouver during the Olympic timeframe, should help increase the exposure of the sport that much much. The popularity of snowshoe running is rapidly increasing. Having Mountain Running Legend, Jonothan Wyatt compete at the World Invitational will help add that much more credibility to the sport.

  2. dogrunner

    Snowshoe running !!! As Derrick already said, this is a great way to run when there is snow. Fun, challenging, and obvious fit to winter games.
    Cross country or better still Trail Running should be in the summer olympics.

  3. todd

    what about adding ultramarathon to the summer olympics? certainly an international sport. a 50k and 100k in the summer olympics would be great to see.

  4. Robert Blair

    I agree with Derrick and Todd, snowshoe racing in the Winter Olympics, and a trail 50K and 100K in the Summer Olympics.

    Those would be the ticket.

    The only thing I would hate about this is that it could bring more money into the sprot of ultrarunning and thereby ruin it in many ways for most of us other runners that are not even close to elite class.

  5. Peter

    I agree derrick, dogrunner and robert. Derrick, snow shoe running over cross country in the winter olympics, def. Dogrunner, xc or trail running would make an awesome summer olympic sport. Robert, i think you are right in that making ultra an olympic sport might ultimately ruin what we love about ultra.
    I also think that basketball should be a winter olympic sport. Why summer? The NBA season is in the winter. Move it to winter and add something else in the summer like rugby. The summer oly. def get more viewers than winter so it would be a good way to bring more people to watch winter games with basketball being moved.
    Just my 2 cents

  6. Derrick

    As for the summer Olympics, I meant to add that I think Mountain Running would be the best choice to add. Since it's already recognized by the IAAF, it would make the most sense. It would certainly compliment the other running events, but not take away from the top athletes in track events and the marathon since they vary considerably. It wouldn't really be any different than the precident already set by cycling (ie. Mountain biking). Having a short course Mountain Running race (ie. 12km), then adding an ultra distance running race (I'd prefer to see trails, but would probably see 100km on the road as making the most sense on the international scene).

    With the current growth of ultra, trail and mountain running worldwide it would be great to see them in the Olympics. If you look at events that are dying like the 50km race walk, I can't imagine that there wouldn't be more interest in OUR sport.

    Peter, as for Basketball in the winter Olympics?… it would only get my vote if they played on skates;)

  7. Courtney

    I know this is a somewhat old topic, but I agree with Bryon. Running should become an Olympic sport, Winter or Summer, I don't care which. Running can be done in any element; rain, shine, snow, sleet, mud, etc. Just because it does not have any snow "elements" does not mean it shouldn't be allowed in the Winter Olympics. Plus, it would be very beneficial in giving the Winter Olympics a larger audience. I think this is an excellent idea, and I would love to see it happen. Forget show shoe running. Who would watch that?

    1. Andrew

      I completely agree that cross country running should be added to the Winter Olympics. NOT snow-shoe running… cross country is an incredibly popular sport all around the world and definitely here in the US. By adding cross country to the Winter Olympics you gain a much much larger fan base for the games. Countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and many others would then be able to send teams to the winter games. Runners who already participate in track events and the marathon in the summer games could then also be given an opportunity to compete as a team in the Winter Olympics without having to sacrifice their summer events.

      I personally think there should be a 5k or 10k team race in the Winter Olympics. Medals to top 3 teams and top 3 individuals. Have a scenic course, crisp winter air, some hills, some snow, some mud, maybe a couple obstacles, true cross country. It would be without a doubt a major televised event.

      Lets make it happen! Support cross country running to be added to the Winter Olympics!

  8. John Warner

    Thumbs up for snowshoe running for the winter olympics! How does one traverse snow and ice on shoes, versus snowshoes? My snowshoes weight 6.8 oz., they allow me to run as fast as with running shoes. We are talking winter aren't we? Snow on narrow paths, right? Shoes in snow right………..???????

  9. Anonymous

    Cross Country Running should TOTALLY be and Olympic Winter Sport!!! I do it all the time. Let's make people famous for it. Win some medals by traversing, and terrain running, and keeping pace!!! Go Cross Country Running!!!!!!!!! Vote "YES" on Cross Country!!!!

  10. Dalton Carver

    I'm a cross country runner and I think it should be in the Olympic Games. I'm in high school and run a 5k in 19 min and I'm only a freshman. This would give me something more to train for.

  11. kayla

    i belive that they should make cross country running an olympis sport but why a winter sport. that doeset make any sence. cross country season is in the fall. the should put it in the olympics becasuse if they did i would go because i am only a freshman and can run a mile under 6 min.

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