Cross country competition new to athletes
By Scott Bellile
Although cross country running was unfamiliar to them in their native Europe, two foreign exchange students took a chance by undertaking the sport this fall.
In doing so, the two girls at Clintonville High School learned what makes sports cultures in North America and Europe unique.
Vanessa Kohler of Munich, Germany, ran for the Truckers’ JV cross country team. Teammate Clara Vo of Copenhagen, Denmark, served as the Truckers’ No. 3 varsity runner.
Kohler, a tennis player back in Germany, joined the team because she said she wanted to do something different and get in shape.
Vo, a national track and field high jumper in Denmark, took up cross country because she wanted to make friends and try a sport where she could explore America’s terrain.
The girls said they learned much about the differences between U.S. and European sports.
For starters, the girls said European schools have club sports, and practices are a couple days per week. Athletes train with a variety of people because a club team draws from a region, not one student body. Turnover was high there, Vo said.
Both learned sports take up five or six days of a student’s week in the U.S.
“If you’re in a [U.S.] sport it really becomes your life because you do it every day,” Vo said.
Vo said if you’re practicing five days a week in Denmark, then “you’re going for the gold” at the national level.
She speculated that because the U.S. doesn’t provide free college like Europe does, athletes here are driven to maintain talent to land college scholarships.
Sports appear to mean more to the American lifestyle, Vo said. Here both girls were surprised to witness school pride, parents and friends watching games, teachers doubling as coaches and coaches mentoring athletes.
In their countries, the girls said coaches focus more on performance. There a coach’s top concern might be a player’s diet rather than a personal relationship.
Kohler said unless a European is a star athlete, he or she will rarely compete.
The girls said they were surprised that Clintonville’s cross country season was over in two months. They’re used to zeroing in on the sport they love year-round and not seeing the season end.
Soccer, tennis and handball are popular back home. The girls said in their countries golf is for “old” and “rich” people, and people seldom play volleyball or American football.
The girls tried their hand at powderpuff football during homecoming week in September. The girls said they couldn’t grasp the rules, so teammates told them to just run with the ball.
“We both probably looked really confused, and we were, but now we understand it better,” Vo said.
Kohler and Vo agreed they had a fun cross country season. Vo said she dropped her 5K record by five minutes here, and Kohler said she enjoyed watching Clintonville’s Kara Pyatskowit run at state on Oct. 31.
Clintonville cross country coach Jeff Crumbaugh said he had a great time coaching Kohler and Vo.
“It was a joy to have Clara and Vanessa on the team this year,” Crumbaugh said. “Clara has this tremendous self-confidence that I thought was good for the other girls to emulate. She is intelligent and self-directed. Vanessa is more easy-going and has a wonderful sense of humor. Both of them connected beautifully with the other girls on the team.”