Sunday, March 25, 2018

V8 N. 22 Book Review on "The Complete History of Cross-Country Running, From the 19th Century to the Present Day"

A Perfect Score: The Complete History of Cross Country Running

Book Review

By Paul O’Shea

Roberto Quercetani is one of track and field’s most respected figures.  Now ninety-five
years of age, in l950 the historian and journalist was a founding member of the
Association of Track and Field Statisticians, meticulous caretakers of the sport’s metrics.
Over a long career Quercetani wrote a number of books. Perhaps the most acclaimed is
Athletics: A World History of Modern Track and Field Athletics. The Italian author’s
other track and field titles focused on sprinting, the middle distances, milers, long
distance running, hurdles, and the throwing events. Roberto Quercetani never wrote a
history of cross country.

Now, an impressive new work by American author Andrew Boyd Hutchinson fills the
need: The Complete History of Cross-Country Running, From the Nineteenth Century to
the Present Day. (Amazon, 294 pages, $40)  published by Carrel Books. Hutchinson’s
book is a sweeping record, tracing the growth of the sport, decade by decade, from its
emergence in the early nineteenth century to the present.

“This is the first time a complete account of the sport of cross-country has been
compiled in one volume,” Hutchinson points out.  “Many other club histories,
anthologies, news reports and magazine articles contributed to the story, but this
attempt was definitive.”

Andrew Boyd Hutchinson grew up in San Francisco’s Bay Area, graduated from Lake
Forest College with a degree in philosophy, and later studied at Stanford University.  He
competed collegiately for Lake Forest and now runs in the USATF’s Cross Country
Grand Prix series. His personal best over eight kilometers cross country is 27:06. He
coached high school cross country in California, and is now a professional coach
affiliated with the Educated Running Network.  In addition to this, his first book, he has
written for Track and Field News and Meter Magazine.  

Beautifully designed and printed, the handsome hardcover could grace a coffee table.  
But you’d make a serious misjudgment to think The Complete History is all glamour,
and meager substance. Beginning in early1800 England, Hutchinson covers the
subsequent years fortified by thesis-like research (the bibliography alone consumes a
dozen pages).

Seasoned readers will reconnect with familiar names and races.  Others will benefit from
his ambitious, deep dive into more recent history.  He begins with the obscure but
perfectly named W.C. Cross, who won the 1867 Thames Handicap Steeplechase. At the
other bookend is Kenenisa Bekele, whose modern day record will not soon be surpassed.
Not meant for binge reading, the best reading plan is to dip into The Complete History at
intervals, sampling a decade or so at a sitting.
The book opens with a foreword by Craig Virgin, winner of the l980 and l981 IAAF
international cross country crowns, who takes his rightful place among the legends.  
Virgin himself was the subject of a recent biography by Randy Sharer: Virgin Territory:
The Story of Craig Virgin, America’s Renaissance Runner, also highly recommended.
Virgin calls Hutchinson’s The Complete History of Cross-Country Running “an incredible
compilation of sport-specific history.  The fact that he traces cross-country back to its
infant days in the early to mid-l800s in England is fascinating….To better understand the
past makes for a deeper appreciation of the present, and a wiser plan for the future of the
sport as well.”

“The first recorded evidence of cross-country running as a sport appeared at the dawn of
the Victorian Age,” Hutchinson points out.  “In the northwest Midlands of England,
rolling fields, and wet, marshy grassland cultured a schoolboy’s game that would
transform from a rebellious, spirited undertaking into one of the world’s most accessible
At an English academy as early as 1819 the lads took up a chase called Hare and
Hounds. These informal pursuits grew into more organized events and running clubs
formed.  Oxford University took part in its first interschool cross country race in 1850.

In the United States the first amateur cross country championship was held in 1883 when
nineteen runners started a 4.25-mile race in New York City. A thousand spectators
watched as sixteen men finished.
T.C. Hooks winning a university cross country race, England 1923
from 'Sportscape, The Evolution of Sports Photography" Phaidon Press 2000

From the mid-nineteenth to the turn of the twentieth century the sport grew in Ireland,
Scotland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  In the United States fourteen running
clubs established the Amateur Athletic Association. The first intercollegiate competition
took place between the Universities of Pennsylvania and Cornell.  By the end of the
1890s high school runners were taking to the straights and hills.

The inaugural Dipsea trail race in California took place in 1904 over a “suggested” but
not mandatory racecourse.  Slower runners were granted a head start. In the East the first
race at what would become the Mecca of venues, Van Cortlandt Park, presented the 1912
New York state high school championship. Mounted on horses two New York City
policemen served as pace cars.

That year the Olympic Games introduced its first and still only cross country race.
Hannes Kolehmainen was the gold medalist in Stockholm over twelve kilometers.  
Foreshadowing what Emil Zatopek was to achieve in l952 when he won the Games’
five- and ten-thousand meters and the marathon, Kolehmainen won the five and the ten in
addition to cross in 1912. That was the final year medals made of solid gold were awarded
to the victors.
Hannes Kolehmainen

In the early 1930s American Don Lash, who like Craig Virgin grew up on a midwestern
farm, won seven consecutive national cross country titles. Lash led the l936 University of
Indiana team to a perfect score. Years later Sports Illustrated would call the Hoosier
“possibly the best U.S. cross country runner ever.”
Don Lash

Before World War II the leading Americans were Fred Wilt and Bob Black. Wilt captured
one NCAA, one Big Ten and three national cross titles.  Black was a nationals winner
Fred Wilt

Southern Counties Women's Championships 1932 England  Clik here for video.

Fourteen-year-old Maria Mulder won the first U.S. women’s cross country championship
in 1964.
Maria Mulder (left)
 Three years later Doris Brown Heritage triumphed in the first women’s

international cross country race, the first of her five consecutive victories.
Doris Brown Heritage

From England
emerged one of the era’s leading performers, Nick Rose, who captured the NCAA title in
l974. He earned a bronze medal at the l980 IAAF.
 In the United States the foremost
harrier was Pat Porter with eight U.S. titles from l982 to l989, plus three victories in the
World cross trials. In the U.S. the dominant women’s cross country figure was Lynn
Jennings who won three consecutive IAAF international and nine national titles.
Pat Porter and Lynn Jennings

On the international scene the Kenyans contributed John Ngugi who won five world titles.
Perhaps the most successful of the Kenyan competitors was Paul Tergat
(“The Gentleman”), who captured five consecutive Worlds beginning in l995.
John Ngugi

Kenenisa Bekele

Paul Tergat
No one
threatens the record of Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele who won eleven long- and short-course
Worlds races over a six-year period. All of these internationalists forged championship
achievements on the track as well, at theOlympics, Worlds, Diamond League and NCAAs
and their own national events.  

In the l970s Hutchinson describes the sport exploding in the United States.  One catalyst
was Steve Prefontaine, with contributions from John Ngeno, Nick Rose and Frank Shorter.
For girls and boys there was first the Kinney and later, FootLocker and Nike Cross
Nationals that gave the sport national high school attention. It was a golden era for those
who competed on the grass, powered up the hills and toured the trails.

Frank Shorter leading and eventually winning 1973 AAU at Gainesville
Virgin (1st)  Rose (2nd) Ngeno (3rd)  1975 NCAA at Penn St.
Hutchinson pauses throughout the text with breakouts he calls Event Spotlight.  In
greater detail he delves into some twenty or so memorable competitions such as the first
international cross country championship, held in Scotland in 1903.
Four countries
Alfred Shrubb
"Sportscape The Evolution of Sports Photography" Phaidon Press 2000
participated with England winning the team and Alfred Shrubb the individual title over
eight miles.  

Another Spotlight choice is the l954 Cross de L’Humanite battle between
Chromik, Kutz, and Zatopek on the podium 1956
from Gerald Bloncourt collection
Zatopek finishing 3rd in 1956
Emil Zatopek, Vladimir Kuts and Jerzy Chromik. Seventy thousand spectators were on
hand at a Paris horseracing track. For the second consecutive year the Czech
Locomotive was first to pull into the station.

1956 Cross de l'Humanite, 19th edition Clik here
We could not find footage of the 1954 Cross de l'Humanite but here is a remarkable video from
two years later when Kutz won with Chromik second and Zatopek third. Note the outriders on
motorcycles zipping around nearly interfering with the runners during the race much like we still see
in the Tour de France cycling race. Also in the trophy presentation in the stands after the podium shots,
sharp eyes will notice Alain Mimoun
standing behind Zatopek. The big names begin appearing at the 2 minute mark of the film. Ed.

Lasse Viren getting some off track training

Later, Hutchinson writes about other noteworthy races such as the 1992 IAAF World
cross meeting at Boston’s Franklin Park where the city spent a half-million dollars to
create a more traditional racing course.  Long course winners were Kenya’s John Ngugi
and Lynn Jennings of the United States.

In segments he calls Cultural Spotlight, he investigates larger issues.  In “Women In
Cross County Running” he tells us that by 1918 France presented the first national
women’s event with a race over 2,400 meters. That country also was home to the first
international event, which took place in l931. Gladys Lunn of England won that first international
over 3Km in 11:12. She competed and got third place in the javelin in the 1938 Empire Games
in Sydney, Australia. The 220 was the longest race for women in those games. Gladys was later a
survivor of a tragic factory fire in Huddlesfield, England in 1941 in which 49 workers died. Ed.
Gladys 'Sally' Lunn of the Birchfield Harriers

In “Kit, Equipment and Technology,” he
describes how attire, footwear, timing and media interest and presentation contributed to
the sport’s progress.

A third series are his Did You Know? short takes.  One of particular interest is his
recounting of how the Ethiopian team traveled to the 1995 World cross meet in the
United Kingdom.  “Visa and financial problems saw the Ethiopians lose access to their
passports for security reasons, and they were forced to pack several to a room in an
Athens hotel on Thursday night.  Then, they pooled what they had to pay the bill, but
could afford no food. Having been in transit since Wednesday, the team finally arrived
in London on Friday. No flights were available to Newcastle, so they made the
seven-hour, 300-mile trip by public bus, arriving at midnight, less than twelve hours
before the first race.”

The book’s only weakness perhaps, is a dearth of photos. Still, there are two exceptional
images beginning with Jeff Johnson’s book jacket cover. Steve Prefontaine, Nick Rose
and Henry Rono are in the lead pack at the l973 NCAA championship in Spokane. That
one photo joins the three who among them won seven NCAA cross country
championships. Another memorable photo immortalizes Pre and Lindgren at the tape of
the 1969 NCAA race, the Duck slivering ahead to victory, both receiving the same time.
Between them they won NCAA cross six times.

As a coda Hutchinson sums up where the sport is today, and where he believes it is
headed.  No hometown cheerleader, he notes the decline in the number of countries
sending teams to the IAAF championship, bi-annual scheduling, the selection of remote
and down market venues for the event, and the domination of African athletes.  In
addition there is the absence of cross country from the Olympic Games schedule. IAAF
CEO Sebastian Coe is pushing for the reintroduction of the event but there is a good deal
of uncertainty about whether that will come to pass.

Why is The Complete History a treasure?  First, the book is a massive and successful
undertaking.  Second, it’s as if Hutchinson were writing history as he reports
contemporaneously. His writing style is crisp, sometimes lyrical.

This series of photos shows the PAC 8 finish between Pre and Lindgren when
thery were both freshmen.

This is how he views Lindgren at the first PAC-8 cross country championship in 1969: “He
was an unassuming combatant: pencil-thin, pale, and nerdy—but with ripped thighs that were
unable to completely hide his prowess.  He was 120 pounds of Clark Kent masking super
hero ability.” Prefontaine at the same race was “shining bright like the sun. Only the
brave had the courage to cast more than two or three glances at the sensational freshman.

Finally, Andrew Boyd Hutchinson’s love for the sport is deep and infectious.
“Cross-country running globally is seeing a low-ebb professionally, but a growth in the
youth market.  I believe the pendulum will swing back and that the sport is primed for a
global comeback. Inclusion into either the summer or winter Olympic Games will help
(the IAAF is working on this), and a more diverse offering into the IAAF Cross Country
Permit Series of invitationals,” he emphasizes.

“In the future, cross-country may take new directions, from inclusion in the Olympics to
new markets and new venues.  There’s hope that Coe’s call will be heard, and that
cross-country running will continue to make history for years to come.”

Hutchinson’s Complete History is a singular performance.  A perfect score.

Paul O’Shea developed great respect for cross country when introduced to the sport at
Chicago’s St. Ignatius High School. Years later, following a corporate career in
communications, he coached the sport at Oak Knoll School in Summit, New Jersey, and
wrote extensively for Cross Country Journal.  He now contributes to Once Upon a Time
in the Vest, lives in Northern Virginia and can be reached at  

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