By Duncan Mackay

Sebastian Coe chaired a special IAAF seminar in Belgrade on the future of cross country running ©Sean Wallace-Jones/IAAFDecember 9 - Getting cross country back into the Olympics to help raise its profile remains a key objective of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) they claimed following a special summit chaired by Sebastian Coe in Belgrade today.

Two of the sport's legends, Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie and Kenyan Paul Tergat, launched a campaign more than five years ago for cross country to regain his place in the Olympic programme and the IAAF had proposed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that it be included in the Winter Games.

Cross country was dropped from the Olympics after the 1924 Games in Paris when 23 of the 38 starters failed to finish due to the extreme heat and poisonous fumes from a nearby energy plant.

It had appeared at three consecutive Olympics having also been part of the programme at Stockholm 1912 and Antwerp 1920. 

Cross country regaining its place in the Olympics would be the pinnacle of a series of proposals designed to help make the sport more attractive after a decline in popularity due to the dominance of African runners and the lack of success from European competitors.

Coe was one of several former top athletes to attend the IAAF Global Seminar on Cross Country Running in the Serbian capital along with fellow Briton Paula Radcliffe, the world record holder for the marathon who won three World Cross Country titles during her career, and Kenya's Benjamin Limo, the 1999 World Short Course gold medallist.

 "I am really pleased that such a wealth of expertise in a single discipline could come together," said Coe, vice-president of the IAAF.

"We have a challenge to maintain a global perspective on this aspect of the sport, which not only has great tradition, but tremendous potential not only as a unique discipline but as a bed rock of endurance running."

African runners have dominated the World Cross Country Championships, including this year's event in Bydgoszcz where Kenya and Ethiopia won every gold medal ©Getty ImagesAfrican runners have dominated the World Cross Country Championships, including this year's event in Bydgoszcz where Kenya and Ethiopia won every gold medal ©Getty Images

Top administrators also attended the seminar, including European Athletics President Hansjörg Wirz and David Okeyo, secretary general of Athletics Kenya, which was held the day after the European Cross Country Championships had taken place in Belgrade.

The IAAF Cross Country Committee is now planning to study some of the ideas raised during the seminar, including organisers having more flexibility both in course construction to foster "real" cross country conditions and enhanced promotion of the discipline by the world governing body.

But getting the sport back into the Olympics remains the ultimate goal, although the IAAF appear to have accepted that the idea of it being included in the Winter Games is a non-starter as the Olympic Charter insists only sports that take place on snow and ice are eligible.

"The IAAF Cross Country Committee is studying options," Nick Davies, deputy general secretary of the IAAF, told insidethegames.

"The IOC has never said that cross country could not be part of an Olympic athletics programme, but were against having it as a new event added to the Winter Olympics, which had been the original proposal a few years ago."

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