The 2022 Ohio High School Athletic Association State Cross Country Championship was held at Fort Obetz, near Columbus. The OHSAA and the many officials and staff staged an outstanding event. Three components of the success of our sport deserve attention:

1) THE ATHLETES: At a recent day camp that I direct in July, 31 runners attended. Nineteen of these young men and women had 4.0 grade point averages. The remaining 12 had at least a 3.5. This was not a hand-picked, select group; it is the norm for those who participate in the sport at all levels. Not only are they great students, but they also put in a great amount of time into a lifetime sport, and many of them will continue running for years after their competition days are over. Let’s see – fit people who are high academic achievers. That sounds like the foundation of contributors who will become positive citizens and help make our world better.

2) THE COACHES: Many men and women who spend their summers preparing for the fall. Remember, THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT MONTHS FOR CROSS-COUNTRY ARE JUNE, JULY, AND AUGUST.

3) THE PARENTS: They support their daughters and sons through the sweltering summers and the chill of late fall, and many of them will travel many miles to catch a glimpse of their offspring on courses that are not spectator-friendly. They may also pay for the latest high priced shoes that have become a new addition to their child’s equipment needs.

As it does each fall, our sport presents many positive factors and a few challenges. The following are random thoughts on this recently completed season and last summer’s track campaign:

4) There is a growing trend among many programs only to run on flat courses, in order to achieve faster times. Consider this: Many of these courses are not measured accurately, and when athletes run the tangents, accurate times are a rarity, even with precise devices. It is rare that a harrier actually covers 3.1 miles. Many other factors contribute to times, such as the length of the grass, the footing, the number of sharp turns, and weather conditions; therefore, using the times to determine the quality of a team many not be an accurate method for judgment when determining the strength or weakness of the group.

5) I attended the OHSAA season opener on August 20, at the site of the state meet. It provides a great opportunity for teams to test the site in their quest to gain one of the coveted spots in the championship; however, running in the midday August heat is not only dangerous, it is not a good first race for the runners or their parents. Imagine – this is your first competitive race as a young runner, and it is not a positive experience. Why not hold the meet in the morning or evening? Even though this would require an early departure or late arrival back home, these are minor inconveniences that would offset a dangerous health situation or a very negative, uncomfortable day for all of the officials, parents, potential fans, and, especially, the athletes.

6) Hats off to NBC Sports for their outstanding coverage of the World Championships. Lewis Johnson, Ato Bolden, Paul Swingart, Kara Goucher, and Sonya Richards Ross provided viewers with complete and interesting commentary. Their obvious passion for our sport and their enthusiasm and knowledge helped make the meet a personal experience for millions of viewers and fans. As World Athletics President Sebastian Coe stated before the competition began, “It is the largest sports market in the world, and we need to be there in a higher profile. We don’t want to come out of the World Championships in Oregon without a very defined footprint for our sport in that country.”  If the momentum continues, and those in charge of track and field capitalize on the spectacle in Eugene, through the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, our sport could regain its proper place in the hierarchy of athletics in America. This will require all those involved on all levels, from age group competition through world class athletes and organizations, to work together, make necessary changes, and consistently promote the sport at every given opportunity.

7) I am thankful for any attention that track receives in the media; however, ESPN’s two-hour coverage of the American Track league’s Ed Murphy Meet in Memphis, on Sat., July 31, left much to be desired. The pace of the meet was very slow. This is one of the obstacles that our sport faces on all levels. Credit must be given to the commentators who attempted to fill the long gaps between events with information and comments. The meet began at 5:30 p.m., on the 29th, with many events, and continued the next day until 2 p.m. Granted, the meet consisted of youth events, but several events were not mentioned; regardless, those watching would like to see action, rather than listen to commentary while cameras are focused on athletes standing behind their blocks, waiting for the start of a race. This does not attract viewers to our sport, after watching the World Championships, which were so well-produced. We must build on that meet, not revert back to ways that have done little to spark interest in the sports world.

8) In a follow-up to my comment on the impact that the new shoe technology is having, the Wall Street Journal reported the following in its July 19 edition: “The number of men who have posted times of less than 1:46 in the 800 from 2016, through 2021 increased 56%. In the 10,000, times of less than 27:50 increased 59%. Huge drops in times for women were equally as impressive. Those running under 15:10 doubled in that time. Despite advances in available information and trends that see many coaches trying the ‘secrets’ that many online offerings use, technology is greatly responsible for the tremendous improvement in times. One can only imagine what the legendary Jim Ryun could have accomplished with the newest shoe technology and today’s modern track surfaces. He was the first high schooler to break the 4:00 barrier what was held in HIGH SCHOOL ONLY competition. His record lasted until Gary Martin broke the mark last spring. Only 14 boys have broken 4:00, with nine of those marks having occurred in the last seven years.

9) I recently watched ESPN on a Friday evening and noted that the network was giving the viewer 90 minutes of coverage to - get this - the United States Air Guitar All Star Air Off. Yes, you read that correctly. After two minutes of astonishment, I turned to another channel; however, I wondered if this absurd event might be offered soon by high school athletic departments. It could happen. Hopefully, not.

Congratulations to all of the athletes who ran in the state championship and the many post-season meets. Kudos also to all of those runners who made cross-country their sport this fall. It is a special sport for special people.

Yours in track,

Rod O’Donnell

Read more of coach O’Donnell’s Keeping Track articles on www.runohio.com

Life Lessons from Cross-Country - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/10-life-lessons-from-cross-country-updated-2020  

Marshall University add Men’s Track & Field - https://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/news/336-keeping-track-marshall-university-add-men-s-track-field-by-rod-o-donnell

Critical Time for Cross Country and Track & Field - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/96-track            

Keeping Track - https://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/289-keeping-track-by-rod-o-donnell

Football and Track & Field - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/78-keeping-track-football-and-track-field          

Two Book Reviews - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/263-keeping-track-two-book-reviews-by-rod-o-donnell

Keeping Track – Remembering – http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/news/211-keeping-track-remembering-by-rod-o-donnell

Facts - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/100-keeping-track-facts        

Track - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/67-keeping-track          

2021 Track & Field - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/200-keeping-track-2021-track-field    

 Keeping Track - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/173-keeping-track-2    

2020 OHSAA State Cross Country Championships - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/news/134-keeping-track-by-rod-o-donnell-2020-ohsaa-state-cross-country-championships  

COVID 19 and Sports - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/news/120-keeping-track-covid-19-and-sports-by-rod-o-donnell     

Marc Bloom’s Amazing Racers - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/43-keeping-track-marc-bloom-s-amazing-racers-by-rod-o-donnel     

Ohio Men College Runnershttps://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/news/235-keeping-track-ohio-men-college-runners-by-rod-o-donnell 

College of William & Maryhttp://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/news/121-keeping-track-college-of-william-mary-by-rod-o-donnel       

Have a Healthy, Happy and Safe 2023!

I hope to see you at a race soon.

Matt McGowan


Take advantage of the 35th anniversary RUNOHIO print subscription price of $8 -