Cross country running

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US Armed Forces cross country meet
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US Armed Forces cross country meet

Cross-country running is a sport in which teams of runners compete to complete a course over open or rough terrain before other teams. It differs from road running or track running principally in the course, which may include grass, mud, woodlands, or water, and in its scoring system. Teams are composed of between five to nine runners.

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Courses and distances

Each cross-country running course is different in composition. Distances are generally standardized in leagues, however there will be little in common between any two courses other than their distance. As such, accurate comparisons cannot be made between performances on different courses. For this reason, records of the fastest times in international competition are not kept.

Races are started by having each team move into its own "box" along the start line. A gun or horn is then sounded, and runners have a few hundred meters to condense from the wide starting line into the much narrower path that must be followed until the finish.

The runner is responsible for staying within a specified distance of the marked path. Courses may be marked in various methods. A common method is to attach to poles colored flags which communicate direction. A red flag means left, a blue flag means straight, and a yellow flag means right. Flags must be passed on the opposite side of the direction to which the runner is turning, with the exception that blue may be passed on either side. Ground markings are also used, usually a solid painted centerline.

The course usually ends at a finish line the width of one person located at the beginning of a chute. The chute is a long, roped walkway that keeps athletes single-file in order of finishing. Less common is an open finish line. This usually involves reading radio-broadcasting computer chips attached to each runner. Prior to the finish line, the course typically widens to allow more passing.

Distances in United States amateur running differ based on gender and league. In grammar school cross country, the corses are arond 1.5 miles or 2,400M in length and include less challenging terrain then in the more advanced leagues. In secondary schools, the standard male and female varsity distance is 5,000m, or approximately 3.1 miles. The U.S. Nationals are 5,000m as well. However, states differ in their regulations, and in some this may be reduced to 2.5 miles for females or junior varsity males. At the university level, distances are 5,000m or 6,000m for females and 8,000m or 5 miles for males for most invitationals and DIII regional and national meets. For DI, teams race 10,000 meters at regional and national competition.

In amateur international competition, the International Amateur Athletic Federation requires a minimum 2,000m to 5,000m for females and 12,000m (7.5 miles) for males.

Scoring

Cross-country running is scored on a team basis. Points are awarded to individual runners equal to the position in which they cross the finish line. Only the first five on each team are counted towards that team's score. The sixth and seventh runners on each team are called "pushers," because while they do not earn points for their team, they push up the point score of each opponent after them. No runners after the first seven per team count in the scoring in most cases. Teams are awarded ranks based on the number of points their top five runners have, with lowest being best. The rules in the event of a tie vary depending on the competition. Often, the team which has a lower sixth-place runner is the winner. However, in the NCAA, the 6th runner is not used and ties are possible.

The lowest possible score is a 15 (1+2+3+4+5), achieved by a team's runners finishing in each of the top five positions.

Notable athletes

Notable cross-country athletes include Kenenisa Bekele, an Ethiopian man who won the gold medal at the 2003 World Championships in Athletics in the 10 km and the bronze medal in the 5 km. Many notable United States track and field distance athletes were high school cross country runners, including Olympic 10,000 meter champion Billy Mills and the late Steve Prefontaine.

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