( Originally Published Early 1900's )
For many years past no athletic sports programme has been considered quite complete without a steeplechase, and at country meetings especially this event provides more interest and amusement than any other. One would naturally have assumed that such encouragement would attract a larger number of cross-country runners to this undoubtedly good sport; yet not only have steeplechases of recent years at athletic meetings produced as a rule thin fields, but the class of competitor, with a few exceptions, has been distinctly poor. The explanation may he in the fact that steeplechasers have enough discomforts to put up with in any case, and are not prepared to make themselves ridiculous for the amusement of the crowd by being asked to take almost impossible jumps. To a considerable extent sports-managers have only themselves to blame for driving distance runners on to the flat.
A good steeplechaser must combine speed, endurance, and jumping ability, a combination which many of our cross-country runners possess to a marked degree, and which would bring them the highest steeplechasing honours if they turned their attention to the sport. The steeplechase course is generally laid out on a grass enclosure, and comprises a number of artificial obstacles placed at intervals of about eighty yards, generally in the form of hurdles, which should not be too difficult, say three feet in height and tipped with furze. The piece de resistance, however, is the water jump, a ditch about six feet wide by two and a half feet deep, the approach to whichis guarded by a solid structure such as a fence, more thickly studded with furze than the other hurdles, and which must be cleared and not rushed.
The favourite steeplechasing distances are from three-quarters of a mile to two miles, the amateur championship being at the latter distance.
It is surprising to note how few competitors take the obstacles scientifically, that is fly and not jump them. The obstacles should be taken in the stride as in the hurdle-race, so that the runner alights on one foot and at once resumes his stride. The generality of steeplechasers jump the hurdles, often clearing them by several inches, thereby uselessly exhausting energy ; but the real fatality of this method lies in the fact that the runner alights on both feet, coming practically to a dead stop and entirely getting out of his stride. It is evident that a recurrence of this at intervals of every eighty to one hundred yards is not only exhausting, but loses an immense amount of time, probably several seconds in a mile. There is no necessity to clear the ordinary hurdle, as, if the timber is topped, the furze will yield to the impact of the body. The chief attraction so far as the spectators are concerned, centres in the water jump, and it is here that the experienced steeplechaser is seen to greatest advantage. Unless he is a jumper of exceptional ability he never attempts to clear the ditch, but jumps into the middle of the water with arms and body slightly bent for-ward so that he may grasp the edge of the ditch with his hands, and spring out with a minimum loss of time.