You could pretty much be sure nearly all of the world’s leading long-distance runners in years gone by would give the World Cross-Country Championships their due regard. In recent years though, the championships has assumed a much lesser significance and the fact the championships are now held biannually and Bydgoszcz being the only city to express an interest in hosting this year’s edition speaks volumes of its declining importance. But perhaps this downhill trend could be arrested?
*The event has traditionally been held towards the end of March but perhaps it’s time to change the timing of the event to an earlier date? The European Cross-Country Championships being held midway through December might account for the dwindling European participation (although I should add I don’t have much sympathy for those who bemoan the East African dominance) but a more pertinent issue is the track season encroaching on the World Cross-Country Championships. A sizeable contingent of our leading cross-country exponents have prioritised the increasingly globally-attended track races in California in April and May (although you could argue there’s no reason why they can’t do both!) in order to attack the World Championships qualifying standards and expect this trend to remain as selectors ideally prefer multiple A standards. Whereas the Golden League, the centrepoint of the commercial track circuit, started in late June or July, its successor the Diamond League now starts in early May in Doha which puts the World Cross further on the periphery. Perhaps holding it a month earlier would be a more conducive time-slot as it would then be in sync with all of the top cross-country races on the continent which are held in January and early February?
*Is there any logical reason why the women still only run 8km at the World Cross-Country Championships while the men run 12km? The marathon was introduced to the major championships programme in 1982 at the European Championships yet, for some reason, cross-country seems impervious to this change. I would love to see this aberration addressed and while this won’t be popular among the purists who bemoan how the National men’s race has been shortened, perhaps reducing the men’s race to 8km could also help to draw a greater cross-section of athletes?
*Tougher courses, rather than those resembling glorified track races, surely make for more exciting spectacles? Let’s hope for more testing courses such as Ostend in 2001 and Edinburgh in 2008 in the future as opposed to the manicured lawns of Marrakech in 1998 and Punta Umbria in 2011 to ensure the event retains its identity and reputation as one of the hardest races to win.