Book re­views

Athletics Weekly - - News -

CROSS-COUN­TRY run­ning en­thu­si­asts and ath­let­ics fans with a thirst for his­tory will find a new book by An­drew Boyd Hutchin­son to be es­sen­tial read­ing.

The Com­plete His­tory of Cross-Coun­try Run­ning – from the 19th Cen­tury to the present day is a com­pre­hen­sive re­view of the sport as it chron­i­cles ev­ery part of its back­ground in 400 pages.

The only down­side is that this mouth­wa­ter­ing feast of cross-coun­try his­tory is not out un­til the new year. But AW has seen a pre­view of the book and can con­firm it is an im­mense work of around 400 pages that is sure to stand the test of time as a de­fin­i­tive source of his­tory for one of ath­let­ics’ most tra­di­tional dis­ci­plines.

The au­thor is a keen cross coun­try runner him­self and his love of the sport is ob­vi­ous as he has painstak­ingly logged the ma­jor events in the his­tory of the sport over the past cou­ple of hun­dred years.

This is not merely a re­gur­gi­ta­tion of events, though. While the book is big, it is also edited well and he has plucked the most in­ter­est­ing and sig­nif­i­cant events and ath­letes to fo­cus on. So while each chap­ter moves through the his­tory from the early 1800s to the present day, it is bro­ken up with ‘event spot­light’ and ‘did you know?’ boxes and all of it is an easy, en­ter­tain­ing, in­for­ma­tive read.

The book has a slight US bias, but the early sec­tion on the ori­gins of cross coun­try fo­cus very much on Eng­land and, specif­i­cally, Shrews­bury School in the Mid­lands, which is cred­ited with be­ing the place where “the first recorded ev­i­dence of cross-coun­try run­ning as a sport ap­peared at the dawn of the Vic­to­rian Age” in 1819.

As an ex­am­ple of the style of writ­ing in the book, the au­thor writes: “The Shrews­bury school­boys har­nessed their ado­les­cent adren­a­line, an­swered the call of the out­doors, and aligned with their com­rades to es­cape the rigour and dis­ci­pline of the class­room. These were the seeds that al­lowed the sport to grow on a global scale.”

From then on, the book charts the growth of the sport across the United States and in­deed around the world. Nat­u­rally, the im­pact of ath­letes from East African na­tions is also ex­plored in de­tail.

Craig Vir­gin, twice world cross-coun­try cham­pion at the start of the 1980s, has given the book his seal of ap­proval and writes a nice pref­ace. In this he ex­plains the beauty of cross-coun­try but also in­cludes his con­cerns about its cur­rent sta­tus in global ath­let­ics.

Vir­gin writes that Seb Coe’s ap­point­ment as IAAF pres­i­dent is good for cross coun­try, for ex­am­ple, as he ex­plains: “The sur­vival of the IAAF World Cross Coun­try Championships may hang in the bal­ance over the next few years.”

He adds: “Cross-coun­try will soon need “friends in high places” if the IAAF is to re­brand and re­or­gan­ise the World Championships in or­der to sur­vive and thrive into the fu­ture.”

Hutchin­son agrees and ex­pands in the pages as he says: “Cross-coun­try has a rich, in­ter­na­tional tra­di­tion. For more than 200 years it has thrilled au­di­ences and par­tic­i­pants alike, has pro­vided a nat­u­ral venue for ath­letes, and now at­tracts run­ners of all ages. But some of the big­gest names in cross-coun­try are wor­ried about the dif­fi­cul­ties in grow­ing the sport.

“There are mul­ti­ple rea­sons why: lack of en­thu­si­asm from pro­fes­sional coaches, the bi­en­nial struc­ture of the world cham­pi­onship, for­mat changes rang­ing from race dis­tances to mon­e­tary com­pen­sa­tion, and dom­i­nance by spe­cific na­tions.”

Re­lated to this, the book briefly ex­plores the growth of ob­sta­cle course rac­ing and gives an in­ter­est­ing ex­pla­na­tion on why it has man­aged to se­cure spon­sor­ship and mas­sive growth in par­tic­i­pa­tion thanks to smart mar­ket­ing while the more tra­di­tional sport of cross-coun­try run­ning

has seem­ingly strug­gled in com­par­i­son for pop­u­lar­ity.

Cer­tainly, if cross-coun­try run­ning is to en­joy a ma­jor re­vival then one of its great strengths is its his­tory and this book demon­strates that it has it in abun­dance (see Com­ment, p4).


From the world championships (above) to lo­cal league and schools events, cross coun­try is a big part of the ath­let­ics cal­en­dar

The Com­plete His­tory of Cross­Coun­try Run­ning – from the 19th Cen­tury to the Present Day by An­drew Boyd Hutchin­son is pub­lished by Car­rel Books for £35.99 hard­back and is out in Jan­uary

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