Last week, the International Olympic Committee announced it had received a request from track and field's world governing body (IAAF) to add cross-country running to the Olympic docket.
The Winter Olympic docket, starting in 2018.
Generally this wouldn't warrant coverage on a freeskiing site, but given that halfpipe skiing is under heavy consideration to be included at the 2014 Sochi Games (in addition to slopestyle snowboarding, women's ski jumping and an alpine racing team event), there suddenly exists a real possibility that Olympic athletes could be running on snow before they'd be launching 20 feet out of a pipe.
According to an Associated Press story on the cross-country bid, the Olympic Charter states that "only those sports which are practiced on snow and ice are considered as winter sports." But the IOC also strives for universality among its sport offerings, and with only 82 of 200 Olympic nations having participated in this year's Vancouver Games, the addition of cross-country running could vastly increase that number, especially among African countries.
As expected, the running community is celebrating the news. Deena Kastor, the 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist and an eight-time U.S. cross-country champion, lives and trains in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., along with many of America's top runners. "I think it's fantastic," she said in a phone interview. "Running is a year-round sport. In the winter months it's a pretty extreme sport, but running in general is the most participated sport in the world."
Kastor said the Winter Olympic potential has been talked about for years at events ranging from small cross-country races to the Summer Games. "It was always a pipe dream," she said. But given the conditions in which many of the world's elite runners train, she believes the winter bid is fair. "I live at 8,000 feet. We get 50 feet of snow each year. This winter we had snow from October to May. I run about 20 to 30 miles a week on the snow (out of 110 miles total), in spikes, crampons, whatever. To me, the worse the conditions, the better."
Peter Olenick, a two-time Winter X Games medalist in the halfpipe and a potential Olympic contender in 2014, doesn't share the runners' view. "I think that's absolutely ridiculous," he said of the IAAF request. "Winter sports involve actually sliding on snow or ice, not just doing a summer sport in the winter. I've never even heard of cross-country running in the winter."
Jonny Moseley, the 1998 Olympic moguls gold medalist and also a cross-country runner in high school, remains dubious on whether halfpipe skiing would be prioritized ahead of an objective event like running. "I think they just hate judged sports," he said of the IOC. "It's too much of a hassle for them."
Tom Kelly, vice president of communications at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, first learned of the news earlier this week. "I can honestly tell you we've never had any discussions on this at all. So there's no way we'd have a position on it," he said. "But it is pretty fascinating. And we have high regard for the process at the IOC. They put a lot of time and thought into adding sports."
The potential 2014 additions could be decided as early as October, when the IOC's executive board meets in Acapulco, Mexico. But the cross-country fate likely won't be known until next July, when the 2018 host city is chosen.