January 23, 2022

cross country, this great celebration of school sport

“At the start it’s war, a big stampede. We are in shorts, at minus two degrees. And in front of us lies a field of mud.” Between memories of school and Olympic ambitions, Flavie Renouard has a voice that sparkles at the mention of her discipline, cross-country. The member of the Mondeville-Hérouville club, in Calvados, played on Sunday, October 12, the European cross country championship with the French team. But before reaching the high level, the young woman first walked, sneakers on, the villages of schools in her department.

When she talks about her memories, the details are vivid. “I was in the basketball section of the college and at the beginning of the year the whole team had to participate in the district UNSS cross. From the sixth grade, I loved: the atmosphere, the team race with the girlfriends, the diversity of the routes but also the buses filled with schoolchildren arriving from everywhere or the hot chocolate at the arrival. It was amazing. “

Flavie Renouard very quickly joined the discipline. “In 2015, I became champion of France when I was not athletics. I had also done a bit of basketball. So I said to myself: and why not go for it?”. The Normande has taken a good turn, who now has two French championship titles to her credit, in steeplechase and cross-country. Last Sunday she is It’salso became vice-champion of European cross with the‘It’steam from France.

“Cross-country is a discipline apart in the UNSS calendar, statistics show its importance in the preparation of all students, all sports combined”, has in the first paragraph the circular “cross” 2021-2022 of the National Education. The latter reports 355,000 young participants in middle and high schools.

“To this must be added the cross-roads of establishments. The UNSS organizes more than 5000 crosses from November to January in nearly thirty academies “, adds Nathalie Grand, deputy director of the National Union of School Sport. “The cross is the biggest event of the UNSS and the biggest championship in France. It corresponds to the multisport DNA of the federation: all the licensees are gathered”, underlines the director.

The strength of the event is also due to its festive dimension. “It attracts a lot of people with a village, stands, activities. It’s a sport that unites”.

The practice of cross country began in the 19th century in English schools. Literally, discipline means “through the countryside”. It was not uncommon for students to get lost, for lack of sufficient markings, in the woods or return at nightfall. From the end of the 19th century, the French school federations organized their first races, this time more structured.

The model has since evolved but has retained the idea of ​​a multi-lap obstacle course, aimed at keeping students in shape in winter. Running in shorts in minus ten degrees and splash around in the mud were therefore already part of the original philosophy.

For Didier Cattaert, national delegate in charge of sports and educational animation of UGSEL (the educational sports federation of Catholic education), “Cross country is an almost ancestral tradition. It is easy to access, there is no need for equipment or a lot of technique. It is about running, jumping, climbing. It has always been part of the history of educational sport. It is also the discipline with the best parity between girls and boys. “ Cross-country has thus established itself, over the yearsIt’ses, like a custom – more or less appreciated – but sharedIt’se by all the pupils of the second degree.

This famous brew, which gives its special flavor to school crosses, is also what makes it so complex in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. “To respect the health protocol of the National Education, the services ofIt’sconcentrIt’ss of the UNSS and the PE teachers adapted to find arrangements. They made departures, in airlock, by level groups for example “, explains Nathalie Grand.

But with the fifth wave, the national crosses UGSEL and UNSS were forced to cancel. “Obviously we have adapted but it’s not exactly the same state of mind, laments Didier Cattaert. We can already see the state of health of our students which is deteriorating. Cross country is also an opportunity to reach students far from the sporting environment, to encourage them to practice healthy. ”

Youth races in middle and high schools are also important in the detection system of top-level sport. “There are two levels of practice: the establishment team championship and the teams “excellence” for sports sections, lists Nathalie Grand. There is also a process of support towards the federations of elisves and detection of high potentials. Not just for athletics. “

For Flavie Renouard as for many athletes in the French team, school sport has served as a bridge to the high level. “Karine Catherine, my PE teacher, supported me a lot, it is she who boosted the sports association (AS) of my college. Even today, she supports me during my competitions.

Jimmy Gressier, winner of the 2017 European Cross Championship in Samorin, Slovakia. (STEPHANE KEMPINAIRE / STEPHANE KEMPINAIRE)

Basketball, football, gymnastics, judo, each sports association shares this unique time of the year. Jimmy Gressier, five-time European cross champion, thus won the national cross despite being licensed in football. IT’Slodie Clouvel, Olympic vice-champion of modern pentathlon, also won the title of champion of France UNSS in 2007, whenshe It’swas playing sports-It’sswimming study.

The school cross has become a highlight of French sport and a dIt’ssportsmanship for generations of students. But as the saying goes: muddy memories, happy memories.