In my formative years, the World Cross Country was the one, the only real distance running champs of the world. In 1975, when New Zealand won the team title and Ian Stewart won the individual, everyone, from the current world record holder for the mile to soon to be record holders for the marathon (American), were running. Stewart out kicked the likes of Bill Rodgers over the last lap in Morocco to take the title. On the Kiwi team, the likes of John Walker, Rod Dixon, Dick Quax, Euan Robertson ( a steepler). On the US team, Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers, to name drop a bit.
Security is just a part of modern day sports. Remember, in 1973, Mariano Haro was pushed off the course in the Cross Country by a group of thugs. Photo courtesy of PhotoRun.net.
The US Junior teams did quite well, remember Eric Hulst, Bob Thomas, Thom Hunt to name a few? It was only after American distance running went after the easy dollars on a local road race, and decided that running 13:45 to win a US championship was fine, because no one could compete with the Ethiopians or Kenyans, that our distance running took a nose dive.
If you want to be a great distance runner, you must work hard. You will spend 12-15 years developing and you will run thousands of miles, do core training, tempo work, get injured, rehab, think of quitting, rebuild and learn to race. Racing is an art form, not a science. Racing on the international stage requires a skill set different from just plugging in lots of miles. Back in the seventies, Brooks Johnson used to do articles in Runners World that infuriated most distance runners. He said that it is one skill to run 100 miles a week, it is another skill to take that base, develop the speed endurance to stay up for 3/4 of a race, and then a totally other skill to have the speed in ones leg to drop a 52 or 53 second last lap at the end of a 10,000 meters to be in medal contention!
I do think that American distance running is getting better, and that is due to the two decades of questioning by athletes, coaches, fans and media, but also to the hard work of the coaches and athletes. I am fascinated watching the likes of Stewart, Bedford and Coe getting into the trenches in the UK to help improve British distance running. As our former AR in the marathon Buddy Edelen noted in his diary,that he truly became a distance runner once he moved to the UK.
The World XC champs should be a must on all distance runners schedules. It should be a more difficult course, hills, trenches, etc, and the training for such a course goes a long way in preparing a distance runner for a spring marathon or good 10k debut. In Pat Butcher's current blog (http://www.globerunner.org/blog/?p=123), Mr. Butcher gives us a synopsis of the development of the Cross Country, and how it has mutated over the years.
I do agree that the IAAF should have kept the short race, and I also think that teams of four are enough, with only one race allowed per runner, and all should be done on one day. The Ethiopians and Kenyans see the races for what they are-a celebration of the best distance running in the world. However, European teams have continued to be no shows and the Amman, Jordan event, while reportedly well run (from my contacts, I was not there), did not have the turn out of the past.
How to fix the World Cross Country? Well, as the Americans have learnt, to race with the Ethiopians and Kenyans, one must train hard, race hard and not give up. The Europeans are learning that lesson as well.
Distance running is not professional wrestling. Close races can be entertaining. Team races can be entertaining. As we evolve our sport, we must remember, that in our sport, the best racing fit ( and prepared) distance runner, on that day, all things being equal, win the race.
For more Pat Butcher, please check : http://www.globerunner.org/blog/