Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Three or four


The WOC relays have been changing in a couple of ways over the last few years. First, they're getting shorter. Second, they've gone to three person rather than four person teams.

The 2004 WOC relay for the men has an expected winning time of 135 minutes over three 8.5 km legs and the women have an expected winning time of 120 minutes over three 6 km legs.

Before last year, most of the World Championship relays had been with four person teams (I think the women had three person teams through 1979, I don't know if the men ever had three person teams).

The relays are also getting shorter. I don't have the energy to hunt through results and collect winning times over history, but I've got the 1987 WOC results sitting on a bookcase on the other side of the room. In 1987, Norway won both the men's and women's races with the men taking 251 minutes and the women taking 224 minutes.

Next year the relay races will be won in around half the time from 1987.

I don't know if shorter relays is good or bad. I suppose it is more spectator friendly. With the WOC having more and more races (in 1987 there was a qualifying race, a final and the relay; in 2004 there will be 3 qualifying races, 3 finals and the relays) it might not be practical to have four person teams running longer legs.

Moving to three person teams should help the U.S. get closer to the best. Winning a medal is still very hard, but finishing within a certain percent of a medal should be easier. Why? The top nations are deep. The U.S. isn't. The difference between the top U.S. runner and the fourth U.S. runner is a lot more time than the difference between the top Norwegian (or Swiss or Swedish or Finnish or...) and the fourth Norwegian runner. The U.S. gains a lot by dropping the fourth runner. Other nations don't gain as much.

This summer's WOC had short relays with three person teams. I don't have the results in front of me, but if memory serves me the women had a decent race in terms of percent back of the top teams. The men disqualified. They were on track to have a strong result...except for a mispunch. Of course, that is a big "except."

If the top three U.S. orienteers go to the WOC in 2004, I'd think the odds are very good for the best finish ever (in terms of percent behind the top teams).

posted by Michael | 8:02 PM


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