Should Cross Country Running be an Olympic sport (again)?

Should Cross Country Running be an Olympic sport (again)?

Posted by   sep 20, 2023     Track & Field     0 Comments

Should Cross Country Running be an Olympic sport (again)?


Cross country running, often hailed as the ultimate test of athletes’ endurance and adaptability, is a sport that has found its place in Olympic history but has eluded the modern Games. While the Tokyo Olympics concluded with the traditional men’s marathon, a beloved running discipline remained sidelined: cross country. Despite its growing popularity and the efforts of key stakeholders, cross country running continues to be excluded from the Olympic stage. But why is this the case? And should cross country running reclaim its rightful place within the Olympic family?

Cross Country Race

Historical Context

Olympic Past

Cross country running hasn’t always lacked recognition. In fact, it proudly represented Olympic disciplines from 1912 to 1924. During those years, cross country showcased its versatility and provided spectators and athletes with a refreshing alternative to the traditional stadium experience. The courses were challenging, often traversing difficult terrain, testing participants’ true endurance and versatility.

Notable Athletes

During this brief yet memorable period in Olympic history, one athlete in particular made history: Paavo Nurmi. The Finnish middle and long-distance runner, often dubbed the “Flying Finn,” remains one of the most famous athletes in sports history. At the 1924 Paris Olympics, he secured gold in cross country, leading his team to victory as well.

Female Cross Country Runner

Efforts for Reinstatement

Despite its historical presence in the Olympics, cross country running was not continued after 1924. However, this doesn’t mean there haven’t been attempts to reintroduce it. In recent years, the international governing body for athletics, now known as World Athletics, has made intensive efforts to reinstate cross country running in the Olympic program.

Role of World Athletics

World Athletics has consistently viewed cross country running as an integral part of track and field. In recent decades, World Athletics has made concerted efforts to reintegrate cross country running into the Olympic program. This is exemplified by the inclusion of cross country running in the program of the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. The Youth Olympics are often seen as a testing ground for the “big” Games. World Athletics’ clear message has been that cross country running is ready to return to the grander stage.

IOC Rejections

Despite these efforts and the obvious benefits of cross country running, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has not yet agreed to reintroduce the sport into the Olympic program. One particularly disheartening moment was the decision regarding the 2024 Paris Olympics. Despite World Athletics presenting a compelling proposal, the IOC chose not to include cross country running in the Paris 2024 program. This decision was especially painful, as the 2024 Olympics would have marked exactly 100 years since cross country’s last participation in Paris in 1924. The reintegration of cross country running into the Olympics in Paris would have been significant not only in terms of sports but also emotionally and historically. This raises further questions about the future of cross country running in the Olympics and whether it will ever regain its rightful place.

Male Cross Country Runner

Arguments for Cross Country Running

Tradition and History

Cross country running, a sport that tests athletes’ abilities on natural, often challenging terrains, boasts a long and proud tradition. This tradition dates back to the early 20th-century Olympics. From 1912 to 1924, cross country running served as a stage for some of the world’s finest endurance athletes and became a permanent part of the Olympic program. The introduction of cross country running to the Olympics demonstrated the high esteem in which this sport was held at the time, reminding us that cross country running is not just a modern phenomenon but has deep-rooted Olympic tradition.

Popularity and Growth

The popularity of cross country running is undeniable (read: School Cross Country Running). In many countries, it has become a staple of school sports, with the United States being a particularly impressive example. With an estimated 450,000 high school students participating in cross country events, the sport has a remarkable grassroots following. These numbers not only attest to the sport’s popularity but also indicate its potential for further growth and reaching an even broader audience. This means there is a sustainable foundation for the sport’s future development and popularity.

Versatility and Attractiveness

One of the standout features of cross country running is its versatility. While traditional track events often take place in predictable stadiums, cross country running offers a dynamic and often unpredictable environment. Each race presents different challenges, whether through difficult terrain, weather conditions, or simply the natural beauty of the course. This variability makes cross country running particularly appealing to many athletes. Spectators are also drawn in as they can watch athletes in a more natural and often picturesque setting, providing a stark contrast to the typical stadium experience.

Cross Country Male Race

Modernizing the Sport

Cross country running may have a long tradition, but it is by no means stuck in the past. There are active efforts to modernize the sport and make it more relevant to today’s audiences. One of the most notable examples of these modernization efforts was seen during the 2019 Cross Country World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark. Runners had the unique and challenging task of running across the roof of the Moesgaard Museum. The museum, known for its archaeology and ethnography, features an innovative design with a green roof seamlessly blending into the surrounding landscape. This unconventional course design not only provided an optical spectacle for spectators but also posed an additional challenge for athletes. Such innovative course designs that take races over unconventional terrain features are a testament to the adaptability and relevance of cross country running in today’s sports landscape.

Challenges and Counterarguments

While there are strong arguments for reintroducing cross country running into the Olympic program, there are also some challenges and counterarguments that need to be considered.

Crowded Schedule

One of the main arguments against including cross country running in the Olympics is the already packed schedule. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has expressed concerns about expanding the already dense Games schedule. Each new sport or discipline added means additional organizational, broadcasting, and logistical burdens. The IOC must ensure that the Games run efficiently and smoothly, hence their caution when it comes to adding new events.

Complex Formats

Another point of criticism is the complexity and potential confusion of various cross country running competition formats. For example, proposals for mixed relay races with both men and women have been put forward, which, while innovative, could be confusing for viewers unfamiliar with the format. A clear and understandable format is crucial to engage both participants and spectators.

Athlete Choice

The inclusion of cross country running in the Olympic program could also pose challenges for athletes themselves. They would need to decide whether to participate in cross country running or other track events, as excelling in both disciplines would be difficult. This decision could be particularly tough for athletes who can compete in both track and field events, putting them in the difficult position of prioritizing one discipline over the other for their best chances at winning medals.

Cross Country Running and the Winter Games

Cross country running, traditionally rooted in track and field, faces an unusual but potentially sensible consideration: should it become part of the Winter Olympics? This proposal may initially sound surprising to many. Track and field, often referred to as the “queen” of the Summer Olympics, with its glamorous events like the 100-meter sprint and high jump, is firmly associated with the Summer Games. So how could a part of this tradition suddenly contemplate transitioning to the Winter Games?

Cross country running differs in many ways from other track and field disciplines. While most track and field events take place in well-predictable, controlled environments like stadiums, cross country running is inherently unpredictable. Athletes compete on natural, often challenging terrains covered in mud, grass, and sometimes even snow. The wintry nature of many cross country events makes it a natural candidate for the Winter Games.

The idea of including cross country running in the Winter Games didn’t arise without reason. Given the increasing challenges of integrating it into the already crowded Summer Games program and the fact that cross country events traditionally take place in the colder months, considering this option makes logistical and thematic sense.

Female Cross Country Runner

Timing Considerations

Cross country running events traditionally occur from November to February/March, aligning perfectly with the Winter Games timeframe. The nature of cross country running, with athletes often competing on muddy, slippery, and sometimes snow-covered tracks, fits well with the wintery character of the Games. Therefore, it would be logistically and thematically sensible to include cross country running in the Winter Games rather than further burden the Summer Games schedule.

Pros and Cons


  • Relief for Summer Games: Shifting cross country running to the Winter Games could alleviate the already congested Summer Games schedule.

  • Representation for Africa: Since African countries have traditionally excelled in long-distance running, their participation in the Winter Games through cross country running could be a valuable addition and better represent this continent, which is otherwise underrepresented at the Winter Games.

  • Variety and Diversity: Cross country running would add a new dimension to the Winter Games, making them more appealing to a broader audience.


  • Traditional Winter Sports: There could be criticism from traditional winter sports, which might see cross country running as an “intruder” in their domain.

  • Climate Conditions: Not all Winter Games locations have suitable conditions for cross country running, especially in areas without snow.

Conclusion and Outlook

The debate about cross country running’s return to the Olympics is not just a matter of sports politics or logistics; it’s also an emotional one. Cross country running, with its rich history and the potential to enrich the Olympics both in content and visually, deserves to be brought back into the spotlight.

The missed opportunity to reintroduce cross country running exactly 100 years after its last participation in the Paris 1924 Olympics was undoubtedly an emotional letdown. It would have been not only a tribute to the athletes of that time but also a significant symbol of the Olympic spirit’s evolution and adaptability.

However, despite this missed chance, cross country running remains a captivating, dynamic, and exciting sport that can appeal to a broad audience. With its combination of physical endurance, tactical intelligence, and the ability to adapt to ever-changing conditions, it embodies the Olympic ideals of excellence, friendship, and respect.

In the future, efforts to modernize cross country running and adapt it to a new audience could open doors for its return to the Olympics. It is hoped that the IOC recognizes the importance and value of this sport and provides it with the platform it deserves.

In conclusion, we can only hope that cross country running, whether in the Summer or Winter Games, will soon run under the Olympic flame once again. It represents the true spirit of sports – the pursuit of excellence, overcoming obstacles, and celebrating human achievement.

20.09.2023 - KOWLOONSPORTS

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