Tips on ways to improve cross country coverage

Cross country is not nearly as popular as football, but that doesn’t mean writers should cover this sport any less rigorously or creatively.

And there’s no reason this beat can’t be the most interesting.

In order to make it so, writers will need to find storylines before these races begin, to keenly observe the races, and to better understand strategy – in other words: to approach cross country like every other beat.

Let’s look at A few cross country event stories to better understand.

Leads can immediately address results, or they can introduce compelling storylines, offer necessary context, and focus on individual performances. No matter the angle, insert the event’s key results in a few sentences fairly high in the story, which serves as a nut graph.

Here is how not to write a lead for, really, any sport: simply stating that a team opened its season (or played a game or is scheduled to play a game or is looking to compete hard – or anything equally general and uninteresting).

The Tennessee men’s and women’s cross country teams opened the 2016 season at the Tennessee Dual on Saturday. The men won but the women lost against UT Martin in the first race run at the Tennessee Cross Country Course at Cherokee Farm.

The lead in the above story could have initially addressed how Tennessee sophomore Zach Long found a way to finish second or how UT-Martin’s Wesley Robinson slipped back from first to third during the final mile or even addressed how UT-Martin’s women team ran in a pack to take the top four spots.

This story appears to be based upon a news release from a university, but that’s no excuse – particularly for the sports information department that probably sent this. SIDs need to work even harder to place cross country stories in publications. The more compelling the story, the more likely to run, to be read and to further promote one’s athletic team.

Position yourself at key markers during a race. Agility certainly helps in covering cross country as does scouting a course. In a 3-mile high school race, head to the 1- and/or 2-mile spots, where you can often record the times being called out as runners pass by. Later, you can assess physical aspects such as runners’ paces, positions and strides.

This description from a recent cross country event attempts to put readers in the moment.

Krupa came from behind in the final mile, passing Wheeling senior Matt Hoffman with 300 meters remaining in taking first in 15:37.1 at the 46th annual Fenton Earlybird Invitational in Bensenville.

Make sure you do not confuse pace with overall time. In this story last week, the following sentence was published.

Cruz, a sophomore, crossed the finish line of the two-mile race in 5:37.9.

That remarkable time is more than two minutes faster than the world record set on a track by Daniel Komen 20 years ago. Likely, this was Cruz’s mile pace for two miles, meaning he ultimately clocked 11 minutes, 15.8 seconds in the Texas race.

Make sure you also ask follow-up questions in order to supply more specific details and insights.

“Both teams opened up with some positive things. With individual and team wins both groups were able to pack it up well. This race was meant to introduce many of the new Longhorns to collegiate racing,” said Cross Country Coach Brad Herbster.

A few possible follow-up questions: Coach, can you cite a few specific positives? How did your team run in a pack so well? (Further, how does pack running work? This is a topic that could be addressed in a game story or could be a mid-week feature.) Also: What are the biggest challenges runners face in their first meets, and how did these runners overcome them?

In the Tennessee story, Beth Alford-Sullivan, the Vols’ director of track & field and cross country coach, offered a quote that needed further clarification – and which could also lead to a weekly feature.

“They have done a great job; our groundskeepers have done a tremendous job of building out this course,” Alford-Sullivan said.

Follow-up questions: So, coach, how specifically did the groundskeepers build the course? What are some of the specific elements that help the runners?

Here’s a solid, straightforward lead from MLive, which offers key news and context:

Hope College’s Erin Herrmann set a Bill Vanderbilt cross country meet record in style on Saturday, beating the old mark by nearly minute for the nationally ranked Flying Dutch.

The senior from Wheaton, Illinois (Wheaton-Warrenville South HS) clocked a winning time of 17 minutes, 39 seconds at Ridge Point Community Church in the Hope’s annual season opener.

If you are writing a preview for any sport, avoid focusing on the fact that a team will play or host a game or meet (see below). Do some reporting to find a storyline or theme.

PROVO, Utah – The BYU men’s and women’s cross country teams open up the 2016 season by hosting the Autumn Classic Saturday morning at Clarence F. Robison Track in Provo.

The Field Guide To Covering Sports‘ chapter on cross country offers significantly more on approaches to covering cross country, but here are a few quick style reminders:

  • Spell out times in first reference: Maria Baldwin finished in 16 minutes, 23.4 seconds. Then use numerals for future time references: Lillian Ciurcovich took second in 16:34.
  • Unlike other sports, cite the lower score first: Cypress Lake defeated Fort Myers, 21-32, in a dual meet. In cross country, of course, the lower points total wins. A team’s overall score is based upon where its top five runners finish in the race. That means a team that sweeps the top five spots earns 15 points (1+2+3+4+5)

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About jgisondi

I am the author of the "Field Guide To Covering Sports," the second edition now available from Congressional Quarterly Press/SAGE, and "Monster Trek: The Obsessive Search for Bigfoot" (U of Nebraska Press). Field Guide to Covering Sports, Second Edition goes beyond general guidance about sports writing, offering readers practical advice on covering 20 specific sports. From auto racing to wrestling, author Joe Gisondi gives tips on the seemingly straightforward—like where to stand on the sideline and how to identify a key player—along with the more specialized—such as figuring out shot selection in lacrosse and understanding a coxswain’s call for a harder stroke in rowing. In the new Second Edition, readers also explore sports reporting across multimedia platforms, developing a foundational understanding for social media, mobile media, visual storytelling, writing for television and radio, and applying sabermetrics. Fully revised with new examples and updated information to give readers confidence in covering just about any game, match, meet, race, regatta or tournament, Field Guide to Covering Sports, Second Edition is the ideal go-to resource to have on hand when mastering the beat. In "Monster Trek," Joe Gisondi brings to life the celebrities in bigfoot culture: people such as Matt Moneymaker, Jeff Meldrum, and Cliff Barackman, who explore remote wooded areas of the country for weeks at a time and spend thousands of dollars on infrared imagers, cameras, and high-end camping equipment. Pursuing the answer to why these seekers of bigfoot do what they do, Gisondi brings to the reader their most interesting—and in many cases, harrowing—expeditions. You can order both from Amazon.
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