You hear the stories, the numbers, the times, the achievements. These magniloquent reports are further validated through old magazines, antiquated race results, and jaw-dropping achievements. "Back in the 70's and 80's," is the phrase that frequently reverberates during conversations regarding running's "Good Ole" days.
Being a competitive runner, a coach, a fan, and historian of the sport I took the opportunity to draw my own conclusions. After a two year study, here's what I found.
#1 Miles and More Miles....Remember high school standout Jerry Lindgren, his six consecutive weeks at 200 miles per week is astonishing. Lindgren went on to win 11 NCAA titles and was only defeated once at Washington State (Jim Ryun in the 2 mile). His legendary training schedule inspired many high school runners to push the mileage limits. Lindgren, Steve Prefontaine, and Jim Ryun inspired a decade of highly motivated runners. This trend continued on through to the mid to late 80's. During that span Ohio produced standouts Scott Fry (Sandusky Perkins), Bob Kennedy (Westerville North) ,Lori Gomez (Boardman), and Kristy Orre (Northmont).
#2 90's Ugh! Unfortunately this includes myself (a 92 Brookville grad)...the decade still provided some outstanding runners; however, the depth of quality harriers dramatically abated. This proved to be quite evident as I began studying race results. The times in Division I stayed relatively strong, but not so in DII and DIII. If you examine the results from the Troy Regional, you will find much slower qualifying times on the same course than you do in the mid 80's.
#3 Soccer's Rise To many cross country coaches.. the sheer mention of "Soccer" makes them cringe. The sport's surging popularity in the our country decimated the rosters of cross country teams in the 90's and early 2000's. Throngs of talented junior high runners chose futbol over a foot race. Many DIII schools did not join the Soccer Revolution until the late 80's and 90's. Division I programs were able to handle the loss of many runners to soccer than the DII and DIII schools. Therefore, the quality of fields suffered for more than a decade.
#4 Technology's Impact The age of technology created a new "Running Boom". At the beginning of the 21st century, few would have predicted that the developement of the internet would help spawn a second Renaissance of Running. It did and it offers no signs of slowing down. Social media has provided runners with the ability to share ideas covering training, footwear, diet, and motivation. Race results are produced almost instantaneously as chip timing provies quick and accurate results (with a few occasional hiccups). Runners, coaches, parents, and avid fans are provided with a virtual cavalcade of information, results, ideas and innovations. This, in turn, has increased the attractivenss of the sport. Now a standout junior high or elementary runner thinks twice about futbol or a footrace.