Cross-country running sees new interest in The Bahamas

By Drew Farmer

Twitter @DrewMFarmer

The Bahamas has a long history with track and field. It is the country's number one sport, and the nation has produced world-class athletes like Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Steven Gardiner. Yet, one athletics discipline that has been often ignored by The Bahamas has been cross-country. However, Bahamas Association of Athletics Associations Secretary General Drumeco Archer believes the country has woken up to the sport, and cross-country running has raised interest in athletes and athletics fans like never before.

"Historically, the cross-country season has never been a high-water mark for the federation," Archer said. "For whatever the reason, we've never been able to get the kids out and the fans out to support.

"I thought this season, in particular, was a prelude to a very successful track and field program, because cross-country, in my mind, has always been the foundation for the training of the upcoming season."

The cross-country season has had the misfortune of timing over the years. Often used as a way to get track and field athletes fit for the new athletics season, cross-country competitions have failed to ignite the enthusiasm of the Bahamian runners and fans.

The BAAA’s has, however, noticed a change in the excitement that athletes have shown toward cross-country. The 2017 season saw a new wave of Bahamian runners take part in the sport, and the hope is cross-country running will see more growth in the future.

It isn't just young, promising Bahamian runners who have taken part in the cross-country events this season. At the annual Bay Street Mile event, Shaunae Miller-Uibo participated as the event's patron. Meanwhile, 2017 IAAF World Championships silver medalist, Steven Gardiner and elite sprinter Jeffery Gibson took part in the cross-country event alongside promising youth athletes.

Archer feels cross-country is on the rise in The Bahamas thanks to the passion and excitement being instilled in young runners. That excitement has been created by senior athletes, and is being passed on to a new generation.

"The Bay Street Mile has been a marquee event," Archer explained. "In recent times, it hasn't been very successful as there haven't been large numbers of participation, nor has there been the fan viewership.

"This year, in particular, was the watershed for a new Bay Street Mile. We had a large number of participants coming out, and what I thought was most interesting, was that the focus was not on senior athletes, but on attracting young people to the sport and creating that environment where everyone can be a part of this movement of track and field."

Archer's enthusiasm for a new era in cross-country comes after a decade of low numbers and disinterest from athletes. From local athletics clubs "pulling teeth" to get participants to runners now coming out in the hundreds for cross-country meets, Archer is excited about the future.

"And I thought this was one of the best cross-country seasons I've seen in the last 10 years," Archer said. "I'm happy to say we are off to a great start and, from my perspective, this will bode well for our preparation for the CARIFTA Games.

Asked about why athletes are more readily running in cross-country events this season, Archer believes it has a lot to do with a shift in the IAAF's presentation.

"If you look at the IAAF, the focus is now slowly shifting from the 100m as the sexy event to the middle distance and distance running becoming very, very popular," Archer stated."I think it has to do with the quality of athletes we attract to the event itself.

"I believe when you consider where we are in the sport, when it becomes a more participatory event for the fans watching, I think cross-country will become a very exciting race to watch."

Due to being team based, Archer predicts cross-country will grow in The Bahamas as young athletes discover the sport.

"We can attract more people, more young people who just want to go out there and have a good time. The appeal has grown tremendously," Archer said.

Archer believes the Bay Street Mile and other recent cross-country meets are indicators The Bahamas is moving forward in the sport. Cross-country may have had a lull during the last decade, but with new athletes discovering the sport, the event looks like it is running into a bright new future.

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