Sunday, October 14, 2012

The art of watching cross country

Saturday marked the second time in nearly 14 years at The News-Herald that I covered a cross country event, this one being the Chagrin Valley Conference meet at Hawken.

In both instances, easily the most fascinating part of cross country's dynamic is, without a doubt, the challenge for fans and coaches striving to watch as much of the races as they can.

Even if you've never watched the sport, it's not that difficult to imagine. Picture a start line with, say, 100 runners. The gun goes off, and the field all disappears down a hill or around a corner.

A scramble ensues. Parents, teammates and coaches make a mad dash for the next corner to catch a glimpse. Then a few seconds after that goal, as the athletes proceed down the course, the fans move on their way to perform that task again. And again. And again.

The fastest scramble then comes toward the finish chute. It's a mass of people moving in unison for the same spot, just to see a few seconds of athletes crossing the line.

This all happens, mind you, in an average of about 15-25 minutes for high school varsity races. All this movement occurs in, say, a 20-minute window for maybe 3-4 minutes of action they're able to catch up with and watch.

It leads me to a few conclusions: No. 1, I defy anyone to come up with a sport with more of a unique challenge for spectating. No. 2, the best experience for those involved in the sport obviously has to belong to the athlete. You get to go out for a competitive run with a course that is never the same.

No. 3, the perfect course - for spectators and coaches - would have a people mover. Think about it: Set up a rail line or one of those transportation systems from a ski slope so people could follow the action throughout. Now that would be a sight.

I say this all in good fun, of course, knowing many of the great folks involved in area cross country from covering track and field all these years.

It's just hard not to find the spectating part of the sport fascinating.

- Chris Lillstrung | @CLillstrungNH


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