It is said that cross country as an organized team sport was first developed in 1868 by the Thames Rowing Club as wintertime conditioning.

One group of runners, the "hares," would set out, leaving a trail of torn pieces of paper for a second group, the "hounds," to follow. The runners were advised to wear woolen garments "for if a brook has to be forded, or a river swum, the warm wet wool prevents any chill being taken in the coldest weather," wrote Walter Rye, the club's founder.

Tradition has been followed since that time in Europe, where cross country is run on steeplechase courses--complete with fences, water jumps and other natural or man-made obstacles.

Some have complained that in the United States Americans shy away from the rigors of true cross country. American runners compete mainly on rolling golf courses, without obstacles, except the hills themselves.

Coach Greg Dunston of Woodward High School has wanted to add a European flavor to the annual Montgomery County season opener, the Woodward Relays, since he founded the meet seven years ago. Now, he is adding six sand jumps to the one-mile course for the meet Friday.

The boys race--in which teams of two run three miles each, one mile at a time, in relay fashion--begins at 3 p.m. The girls, who each run two miles as members of two-person teams, follow at the close of the boys race.

"We were going to use water jumps, not sand, but we couldn't work it out," said Dunston. "There are six jumps each mile, at about quarter-mile intervals. Five of them are about two feet high and we're trying to make a double jump where they'll have to take a step up to jump it.

"The meets in the past have been good, but we keep changing them, which makes it different, exciting. That's why I think people keep coming back to them each year, because they're different."

Of the top five individual performers last year, according to their mile splits, fifth-ranked Walsh McGuire of Georgetown Prep is the only returning competitor. He put together miles of 5 minutes 7 seconds, 5:12 and 5:25 for a combined time of 15:44.McGuire and his partner should be favored.

Woodward's Cindy Kearns, who had the swiftest splits last year, 5:54 and 5:56 for 11:50, returns this year. So are seven of last year's top 10 individuals: Springbrook's Betsy Schmid, Churchill's Tammy DeVore, Kennedy's Beth Jacobson, Einstein's Mary Bodnar, Liz Kennedy of Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Kennedy's Maureen Conroy.