Friday, December 6, 2013

Vol. 3 No. 78 Future of International Cross Country Championships to Be Discussed in Europe This Week

Athletics Weekly, the British equivalent of Track and Field News is carrying an article this week discussing the future of International cross country competitions.  The world championships are reduced now to every two years rather than every year.  The article suggests that the overwhelming success of Kenyans and Ethiopians has taken some of the interest away from European athletes to compete at the same level as the Africans.  Sebastian Coe will be chairing the panel to be held in Belgrade.  Also on the panel will be Paula Radcliff, Craig Virgin, and a number of others , mainly Europeans.  Some of the suggestions that Athletics Weekly make in their article is that course should be in major cities in central parks, get away from the flat courses, and dollars dollars and dollars as well.  Thanks to John Bork and Richard Mach for supplying the source.

Being of 400-800M ilk but having run 4 miles cross country for 4 years at WMU, I can say that I am most happy that  Coach Dales never sought out courses of mud meant for the "tougher" sorts like steeplechasers. Rich (Mach) you would have been great at this style of cross country running.

Also, My Canadian roommate at WMU Carl Reid would have loved this sort to tough going.

John Bork

Just had to throw this piece in when I found the picture. It comes from
our account of the 1957 PCC meet.
Idaho (Idaho?), with a team imported from England, wins the first Pacific Coast Conference XC Championship in Los Angeles “before an enthusiastic crowd of 300, the largest to witness a meet in this area”, besting Oregon 25-31 in a meet run oddly five days after the NCAA. Truex wins by 33 seconds over Frank Wyatt of Idaho with Jim Grelle another nine seconds back. Even more odd was the fact that only four runners were scored. Moving “odd” into the realm of strange, Idaho recruited its team by advertising for runners in the British publication, Athletics Weekly, thus earning a $1000 fine from commissioner Vic Schmidt for illegal recruiting. Yes, that would be the same Vic Schmidt who presents coach Joe Glander the championship trophy. Dick Bank writes that the Vandals could have won the NCAA but didn’t attend for lack of funds. In fact the only reason the team made it to Los Angeles is that the citizens of Moscow passed the hat to raise the money for the trip. Picture contribution jars by the cash register at local diners: “Send our boys to LA”. (Or more accurately, send those kids who talk with a funny accent to LA.)  Truex is obvious.  Is that Jim Grelle in the O shirt? Idaho vest must be Frank Wyatt.

"Seeing this photo of the guys climbing the fence "real XC" brought back memories of the strangest XC obstacle I've ever seen.  I had just moved to Mendocino Co. and was training with a guy in Willits.  One day we ran the Willits HS course.  Near the finish - no more than 200 yards - a giant redwood was down across the trail.  There was no going over the tree.  It was so big that you couldn't see over it.  As the trail was well worn, there was room to crawl under it.  If you got to the tree first you would beat the competition because only one at a time could crawl under it.  If the other guy got there first, you  had to wait until he was through before you could crawl through.  By the time you had emerged, he had an insurmountable lead.  Never saw a race there, but that had to be the case.  I often wondered what happened if a pack arrived at the same time.  The race wouldn't go to the swiftest, but the toughest.  Punch out the others and crawl through first.  Maybe there was a take a number and wait in line like at the bakery.  "Number 7.  Who has number 7?"  I can imagine workouts including 10 x crawling under the tree.  No, we can't run worth a damn, but we'll crawl the hell out of you. The Willits XC program was in its infancy.  Pretty sure that changed when opposing coaches complained."   Roy Mason

Good stuff as they say.    The Brits really like their xc in the most difficult of conditions.  I remember once seeing a News of the Day film strip at the movies showing a race between runners and cyclists over rough terrain in England.  The winner was a runner and second place was a cyclist on foot carrying a  wheel in one hand and a frame in the other.  There was also a pic in SI once of the British AAA national club xc championships.  It was nine miles and about 400 runners, two things unimaginable in the US at that time and probably still not. 
Here are a few links to news film from British Pathe showing southern counties championships of 1929 and All England club championships 1967, and last but not least a unique event probably what I was remembering in the paragraph above, cyclo cross championships 1962 going on a tough cross country course with road bikes which involved going over stone fences, through pasture, and streams.  I vote to go retro and race again this way and toss out all those hi-teck mountain bikes. Caution there may be one time only viewing of the clips as they are for sale on the site.
George: There still are national and international cyclo cross racing. I myself raced in Dayton quite a bit on the old Wright State University Cross Country course. Also some times done on snow. I did well until one race my front wheel got sunk in mud at bottom of hill, I got racked good on goose neck and walked bike in doing a Lou Christie imitation of “Two testicles have I” I yi yi yi yi!
Phil Scott

What fun!  I do have some observations.

1.  The 1929 southern counties races was well filmed, showing more than just the leader.
2.  The 1967 race was of modern quality and also about the time when British runners, along with the Beatles, invaded the US.
3.  In the cyclo-cross meet I noticed the size of some of the riders.  If all British women had the big legs of those in the race it is no wonder they can never beat the East Africans.  But my biggest question has to do with the bike.  It looks as if they would do better without the bike rather than having to carry it so much and occasionally throw it across a creek.
4.  Great films George.  I am disappointed that Lowell Thomas was not the narrator.

John Teacy (Ireland 138) on his way to the world championship

   What a great addition to your blog, one of my favorites.  I have no idea how the British meeting on International cross country will go, but I do know that their glory days are typically captured in black and white photos which were included in today's addition of your blog.  When I think of their races I picture just what these pictures portrayed:  men running in mud, climbing over obstacles, jumping in creeks and generally making a sport which is difficult enough even more so.  That mentality probably stemmed from a British aristocratic mindset of exclusivity.  Very few people are up to running far, and even fewer are willing to do so under difficult conditions.  Only the British can overcome obstacles like these because we have done so throughout our history.  A Brit will surely be the first to break 4:00 in the mile.  There will always be an England.  We defeated them on the playing fields of Eton (and the rowhouses of  Brighton, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, and Liverpool?) Much of this is true, but not all of it.
I can see how the success of eastern Africans has discouraged those very people who invented the organized sport of cross country, but I think a better plan has been advanced by runners like Bob Kennedy who simply decided to take them on.  If there will always be an England, then the British will follow Kennedy's path.  If the aristocratic point of view predominates, then they will punt this sport and concentrate on tea and crumpets served during high tea in the House of Lords.  I am rooting for them to continue this unusual sport with a stiff upper lip and decide to get better at it.
Those pictures brought to mind the days of the 1970s when Steve Price and Max Henry carved out a small and repeating course from the farm land and woods surrounding Bellbrook High School (Ohio) to host the AAU Age-group Cross Country Championships sponsored by the Kettering Striders.  They created a course patterned after those in Europe, specifically England, and it was embraced by all who ran there on that rainy October day.  It would not go over well today because runners could not run a fast time, they would be "ruined" for future meets, they could risk injury and the course could not be compared with other courses more typical of American running in the 21st Century.  Ironically that course and others like it created interest, fun and bragging rights.  What is mostly missing today is the fun part.  Bill Schnier
I'm reminded of a "short" cross country course that was set up at the Outward Bound School of East Africa in Loitokitok, Kenya when I taught there as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  It was only 600 yards long, but the obstacles, ditches (water filled), altitude (6000 feet) etc. made it that no one had broken three minutes on the course.  I think I set the best time at about 3:10.  This was in 1967 when the Kenyans were just starting to make their presence felt on the running world.  We had a group of guys come in from the Kenyan Air Force and Uganda Police for a three week Outward Bound class.  When we put them on the cross country course, they all were under 3 minutes, and the best was about 2:35.  These were not even their highly trained internationals, just some young enlisted men.  George Brose


  " In 1958-59 there used to be a ditch like this at the Lowell Thomas Invitational in Pittsburg , OH near Arcanum.   Couldn't clear it jumping and it dropped about six feet down before you got mired in mud almost knee deep reeking of cow feces.  Went through it twice in the two mile race,  first time 100 yards out from the start and second time hundred yards from the finish.  Somebody yelled 'Here comes the shit' the first time and the whole field was laughing when they went in and eating it when they came out." George Brose
"Now we know what Lowell Thomas was full of.."  Richard Trace
back in a previous incarnation I ran a couple of interesting courses.  One was at Erie-Mason high school in extreme SE Michigan.  The start was across a broad field, 150-200 yards into a one-man wide path through thick woods.  In the woods was a creek spanned by a one log bridge (tree trunk).  This was faced twice on the 2-lap course.  Of course it was pell mell to the narrow path and apprehensive when facing the "bridge".   The other was at Delta College near Saginaw, MI.  Also 2 laps this one ran us across a newly plowed field in November or December.  Those clods were very difficult to negotiate.  These courses were like being in the army; didn't like it at the time, but have always been happy they happened.  Richard Trace again.
Also back in the 50's a now extinct school Lanier,  west of Dayton, OH had their annual 20 team invitational.  It was two miles,  started on a one lane gravel county road.  So the starting line was twenty runners wide and seven deep.  It went for  about 600 yards then took a ninety degree turn left into an unharvested corn field.  fortunately the rows went in the direction we were running so we just had to find our way through the cornfield, coming out on a narrow path through a woods.  We didn't get to the race course in time to survey it, so it was all new to us as we ran.  Never knew when the finish was coming up.  Dave Albritton, the coach at Dunbar HS was out in the woods, and as I was leading the race I asked him how much further,  and he said, 'Not much more', so I started kicking.  Unfortunately the finish was well beyond my ability to maintain the kick, and several of his runners ended up beating me.   Lesson learned, know the bloody course.     Also on that jammed up starting line, somebody went down just after the start and there was quite a pileup of runners in the first few yards of the race.   In those days, I think some of the race organizers, especially in the small county schools were hell bent on having the toughest course in the region.  Then we moved to golf courses and city parks.    George Brose

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