Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Friday, September 01, 2006

Some notes and thoughts about orienteering experience


Lots of North American orienteers are upset about the new rules that, if I understand correctly, will limit the U.S. and Canada to one man and one woman in each of the World Cup races next season.

To get a feel for the discussion and issues, you can read Sandra's concerns.

I don't really have any thoughts about the overall issue, but Sandra wrote something that interests me and that I have thought about a lot over the years.* She wrote:

Everyone wants a chance at gaining valuable experience in the international circuit, but now we are only allowed 1 women and 1 man in the World Cup races!!!

What I want to comment on is the idea of "gaining valuable experience" by running world cup races. The implication is that there is some unique experience that you get from running a world cup or a world champs. That's an idea that I don't buy (and I realize that I'm in the vast minority in that view). What I think is that people have come to believe is that the experience of running a world champs or world cup helps you do better in the future. It is a very common idea and an idea that is reinforced over and over.

Imagine that you're a promising, young orienteer who wants to do well at a world champs. You could tell yourself that you need to run some world cup races to get international experience. But you could also tell yourself that the sport is exactly the same at a world champs as at any high quality race. You make the same decisions. You think the same. You train the same.

The big difference between a high quality race and the world champs is the stuff around it (like sharing a room with a team mate you don't know very well, or being around a bunch of big name O' stars who you've only read about before). But, that stuff isn't really about the sport, it is about how you react and what your expect. What if you just told yourself you wouldn't worry about that stuff?

I probably haven't done a good job of explaining my thoughts, but I guess it boils down to focusing on the aspects of a world champs that are just like any other race instead of the things that are different. Tell yourself, "it doesn't matter that I've got no world cup experience - orienteering at the world champs is just like finding controls at any other race."

I wouldn't necessarily avoid running world cups, but I wouldn't run them for experience, I'd run them because they are races and they should be fun.

*I first spent time thinking about this when I ran in Europe in 1986. I'd never run a WOC, but I was hoping to make the team for 1987, when France hosted the WOC. A bunch of runners from the U.S. went to France to run a World Cup race in 1986. I gave that a bunch of thought, but decided to go to Norway and run Sorlandsgallopen instead. I decided that if I made the team and got to run the WOC in France, I just wouldn't worry that I'd had no experience running at the world cup in France. I made the team and I don't feel like I had any disadvantage. But, I'm convinced that if I hadn't thought through the issue, I'd have come to France feeling like I was at a disadvantage because I didn't have the world cup experience or didn't have the French experience. I decided to focus on the idea that orienteering at the WOC would be just like orienteering on the KU West Campus - reading the map, finding the controls, and running.

posted by Michael | 8:18 PM


I am in strong agreement on this one. Perhaps running one World Cup (your first) is a useful learning experience, but I believe there are many, many events in Europe that provide better experience return for time and money invested. Anytime you face competion better than yourself is valuable. I believe it is more valuable to take part in events where you are in the hunt, competing hard, perhaps in non "E" categories, than to simply be in an overwhelming event.
I disagree, I think it's VERY important to run in the conditions in which you want to be good in. Yes of course it's just orienteering, no matter what event you are in, but now a days, the world cups and world champs have a lot more hype, a lot more media coverage than early. If you have never run in a situation where their will be TV camers in the woods, or where you will be wearing a GPS system, there is the potencial that for some people this could through them off, make them nervous, etc. But my point wasn't that the world cup is better at gaining experiance than another international race (although for some aspects they are), my point is that Americans tend to only travel to the "big" races, such as world cup or world champs, and if we only have one spot that will limit the amount of international races the Americans do at all. I do not think that american orienteers will suddenly travel to Spring cup because they can't run in the WC that year. They will probably just stay at home until the World champs... I do not think that this will help the development of orienteering in the USA. But, regardless of how one finds and gains experience, the fact is, you have to practice what you want to be good at, and what could be better than racing against the best in the world and learning from that experience. I think that this can be motivating.
Well, Michael, the IOF/FOC agrees with you. They think that the "lesser" orienteering nations should be able to develop just as well by running WRE's against each other, and spectator races if they choose to travel to the WC venues.

I strongly disagree.

Yes, you are correct in saying that a good quality orienteering race is the same no matter if it is a World Cup or not. There are still controls in the woods and a (hopefully) good quality map.

The difference between running a WC/WOC and a spectator race is, although intangible, just as real. The motivation, the inspiration, the feeling of being a part of something big, is unique in a WC/WOC. Giving runners the chance to compete in WC/WOC is a crucial part of developing Elite Orienteering in North America. It motivates and inspires runners to train better, travel to races and training camps, deepen their commitment, raise their goals -- in short, all the things needed to develop to the next level.

You will never make me believe that running spectator races or WRE events within North America can give the same long-term effects for development of Elite Orienteering in North America.
I mostly in the camp of, you don't need to go to Europe (and WC's) to get better at 'O. I will concede that racing against better competition motivates or inspires competitiors to do better. I think it's literally the desire and realization that,"if they can do it, so can I". BUT, you have to be able to compete often, like once a week or at least once a month to keep that motivation up there.
So just going over for a WC race won't do much. Moving there and competing often may help. There are some from US doing that, but they don't seem to have an overwhelming edge over those who train here.
I agree with Sandra.

Nobody will go to the WRE events in Europe to get more experience except if he/she move there for longer time. One is getting more experienced and other how to exceed the limit with WRE points to get 22nd place in national WRE ranking.

I presume that in USA runners can get some decent points at WRE events, but even in Europe (not counting Asian and South American countries), because of not enough ranked runners in the class, they don't get any points. That's more obvious in womens class. If you have two very good runners who travel a lot to get WRE points is not enough that those two runners will get to the WC. That is because at home they don't get the points and also other local runners can't help. They should also organize big competitions to get more ranked runners from abroad. Sometimes nobody cares for that second runner because "price" for that is to big (big events, big strong team, traveling, ...). Development takes years what is handicap for lonely good runners.

Big will stay big and small will stay small.
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