at the races Listen to your Athletes: Why the Canadian Cross Country Championships are On...

Listen to your Athletes: Why the Canadian Cross Country Championships are On the Move

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It’s official: the 2022 Canadian Cross Country Championships on November 26 are moving from Wesley Clover Parks to Mooney’s Bay (the park near the Terry Fox Athletic Facility) in Ottawa, Ontario. 

I have seen some debate online as to whether this is the right decision and whether the course truly needed to be moved. I can assure you—it was the right decision.

Run Ottawa, a main driving force behind the Canadian Cross Country Championships being held in Ottawa, is one of the premier running organizations in North America and is known for world class events. The Wesley Clover Parks course, however, was raw, untested, and not quite the polished product that Canadian Championships or Run Ottawa events participants are used to. Although cross country is supposed to be difficult and muddy, this course surpassed that line, and instead was treacherous, and at times, dangerous. 

The event featured off-camber turns on bare rocks and roots made the back section of the course more prototypical of a trail-ultra than a cross country event. The giant pools of mud and water, although very much in the spirit of cross country, were so deep and located so close to the start that they caused some massive pile-ups. And while broadcasting the event, the off-road vehicle employed to chronicle the action became stuck in one of the mud drifts.

Drop-out rates were high. Very high. 

This is why when Run Ottawa and Athletics Canada announced the change in venue for the 2022 edition of the race, I vehemently defended it.

My stance is and always will be that athlete safety comes first. The truth is: that course, although challenging, bordered on being unsafe. Cross country is supposed to be hard. And yes, there will always be risks inherent with running on grass and mud, but we need to ensure that our national caliber athletes do not have their seasons ended in the Canadian Cross Country Championships. Many of these athletes are granted thousands of dollars by Athletics Canada and Sport Canada to compete on the world stage and we should not be putting them at a higher risk of injury than our sport already provides.

In speaking with some of these athletes, such as 2x Canadian Olympian and 3x Canadian Cross Country Champion, Luc Bruchet, who ran at Wesley Clover Parks in 2021, they told me that it is not worth the risk to run here again. If this were to be the case, Canada would be heading into a World Cross Country Championship year without our best athletes available for selection. As an advocate that more of Canada’s best should run cross country, I believe we need to balance having really challenging courses with courses that are safe and reliable. For me, the perfect example of this kind of course is the Fort Henry course in Kingston, Ontario. Here, there are hills, mud, and sharp turns, but no roots, rocks, or other unnecessary obstacles that could injure our athletes.

By moving to Mooney’s Bay, I believe Athletics Canada and Run Ottawa have worked to strike that balance. At Mooney’s Bay there will be a big hill and a beach section which will make the course difficult, but not to a point where there will be a high dropout or injury rate like we saw in 2021.

The other positive that is displayed by the change in course is that Athletics Canada and Run Ottawa have shown that they care about athlete feedback. In the news release which announced the change, there was a direct reference to how athlete feedback was the main driver in this change. This is a positive step and one that I hope organizers learn from in the future. Listen to your athletes. 

In closing, I would like to offer a few thoughts on what Athletics Canada and other hosts can do to ensure courses are safe in the future:

  1. Ensure that if a new course is being used for a national championship, that there is some sort of test event. Test events happen all the time. The Olympics have them for every different sport on the schedule. Test events allow organizers to work out the minor issues with the course and provide competitors an opportunity to learn the course before a big race.
  2. Keep it on the grass. By taking the Wesley Clover Parks course into a wooded area, it created a lot of work for organizers. They needed to cut new trails and due to rains had issues maintaining the trail quality. Had the event been kept on the vast grasslands that make up the park, there may have been fewer issues. 
  3. Talk with Clive Morgan. Clive Morgan is the mastermind behind many cross country events in Canada. He is the event director almost every time the event is held in Kingston at the Fort Henry course. Clive knows cross country and is certainly a worthwhile meeting when looking to design a course for ACXC.

To learn more about the 2022 Canadian Cross Country Championships or to register, please head to the event webpage