Cross-country running’s long wait to make its Olympic comeback continues, while 50km race walk could be mixed sex in four years’ time

Cross-country running will not be part of the 2024 Olympics in Paris and the women’s 50km race walk has been rejected, although a new mixed sex race walk over that distance could now happen instead.

The decisions have been made by the International Olympic Committee as the organisation made its latest judgement relating to which sports and events will make up the programme at the Games.

Breaking (a competitive form of breakdancing) has been added to the Olympic programme in 2024, whereas skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing will debut at the delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

Athletics is not the only sport faced with disappointing news. Weightlifting has seen its number of events reduced and parkour, chess and squash have missed out entirely in its bid for inclusion.

World Athletics said: “Cross country is an exciting and fast growing sport around the world so we are clearly disappointed it will not feature at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, even more so given the heritage of cross country in France at the Paris 1924 Olympic Games.

“However, we have developed what we believe is a really exciting mixed relay product and have been encouraged by the commitment from the IOC that they will continue to work with us to realise our vision of seeing cross country in a future Olympic Games.”

MUDDY LEGS National Cross Country 2013 (Credit: Mark Shearman)

The last time cross-country running appeared at the Olympics was in the French capital in 1924. It was a controversial event with only 15 of the 38 athletes completing an unusually difficult course in heatwave conditions as Paavo Nurmi took gold.

Since then cross-country has not been included in the Olympics but since 2008 there has been a campaign for it to be added to the Games with athletes like Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele and Paul Tergat arguing for its inclusion and with some having the theory that it is perhaps more appropriate in the Winter as opposed to Summer Games.

Running off-road is a universal and popular pursuit. In the UK, if cross-country became an Olympic sport then dozens of domestic endurance runners would be eligible for Lottery funding that, until now, has been restricted to track and field athletes and marathon runners.

Such is the strength of the idea, when AW invited people on social media a few years ago to write an argument ‘for’ or ‘against’ the proposal of cross country being an Olympic sport, we struggled to find anybody to write the case ‘against’.

Seb Coe, president of World Athletics, is also passionate about getting cross-country running into the Olympic programme. He cut his teeth on the British cross-country circuit as a teenager and regularly sings its praises as being the bedrock of any endurance runner worth his or her salt.

In addition, cross-country was a success at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, whereas the World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus in Denmark last year showed how entertaining it can be when organised in a slick and imaginative style.

On the IOC’s decisions relating to 2024, World Athletics added: “Regarding the long race walk, we will consult with our athletes and Competition Commission to develop an event that is able to feature both men and women. The IOC has suggested this could be any mixed gender event using any current venue, however we are only considering a mixed gender race walk event.

This latest IOC decision will reduce the overall athlete quota to exactly 10,500 with a gender equality 50/50 split compared to an expected 48.8% of women at the Tokyo Games.

In the Tokyo Games there will be 20km race walk for men and women, plus the men’s 50km walk.

Liang Rui wins the world 50km walk gold in Doha 2019

On the race walks for Paris 2024, the IOC said: “With a view to not increasing the overall size of the Olympic Games, the (IOC) Executive Board determined to maintain the same number of athletics events on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic programme (48), while offering the opportunity to World Athletics to replace the men’s 50km race walk event with a new mixed-gender event.

“This replacement mixed-gender event could be either a race walk or a track event, as long as the event and competition format fit within the existing venue/courses,” the IOC added, saying World Athletics has until May 31 to confirm the event.”

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