Cross country scoring explained

A rare instance of “less is more” in the sports world

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Photo of runners in the midst of a cross country race.
PHOTO: Leah Hetteberg / Unsplash

By: Simran Sarai, Sports Writer

Ah, cross country! The sport of running as fast as you can over multiple kilometres of outdoor terrain, navigating massive puddles, treacherous hills, and the ever-present feeling of your legs being on fire. It’s a sport loved by and competed in by athletes worldwide. High-stakes cross country competitions exist at every level, from elementary school park races to world championships attended by the best of the best.

While you’d assume the rules for a sport that’s essentially an ultra-competitive version of a children’s foot race would be pretty straightforward, cross country throws some scoring curve balls. Ironic, because there are no balls involved. Unless we talk about the balls of your feet, anyway, I digress . . .  

Albeit an individual sport, there’s a very strong team component to cross country. In addition to receiving awards depending on the place they finish, athletes receive points that contribute to their team’s final score. The number of athletes that can make up a team varies, but it’s very common for teams to be made up of seven runners, with the first five finishers from each team having their points counted towards the team’s total. 

Unlike other team sports where the goal is to score as many points as possible, cross country is much more like golf, where the team with the lowest number of points wins. The better a runner finishes, the fewer points they earn. For example, a first-place finisher will earn one point, a second-place finisher will earn two points, and so on.

Although the points of the sixth and seventh runners are not counted towards a team’s total, their performance on the course is still important. If the sixth and seventh runners on a team place better than the athletes from opposing teams, they increase the number of points that the other teams receive. It’s important to note that the scoring rules for each competition will vary slightly depending on the region and level of competition. However, teams will always be striving to earn the lowest number of points in order to declare victory. 

Voilà! Just like that, you are now an expert on how cross country scoring works. If this brief dive into the world of cross country has you wanting more, you’ll be excited to know that the 2023 World Athletics Cross Country Championships will take place on February 18 in Bathurst, Australia. Tune in to watch the world’s best compete!