Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

E is for Europe


A number of the people who read this page are in Europe. Now and then, one of them will write me and ask a question about orienteering in the U.S.

One way to give you an idea about orienteering in the U.S. and in Europe is to write some of my impressions -- as an American -- of orienteering in Europe. I've orienteered in nine European countries: England, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Norway, France, Finland and Latvia. Most of my European O' experience is from Sweden.

So, here are the first five things that come to mind as I think about my impressions of European O':

1. European races have a lot more people. A big race in Europe has thousands. A big race in the U.S. has hundreds.

2. More European orienteers race. In the U.S., a lot of people who orienteer take their time. They go slowly, they get lost.

3. Europeans orienteer in working forests a lot more than we do. By working forest I mean a forest where trees are being planted and cut down. In the U.S. most orienteering takes place in preserved parks. We don't have to run through dense newly planted pines or over cuttings. I've got distinct memories of my first time running through a Norwegian felled area, something I'd never had to do in the U.S. There are other differences due to the nature of the forests -- different ways of mapping and different types of trails, for example.

4. The level of competition is much higher. In the U.S. a mistake doesn't usually affect your final place. You can lose a minute without losing a place. In Europe -- or at least in Scandinavia -- it isn't unusual to lose several places when you lose a minute.

5. European orienteers (at least in Scandinavia) are very club-centered. In the U.S. an event feels like a collection of individuals. In Europe an event feels like a collection of clubs. You look around a finish area and see people in colorful matching gear, sitting under club banners. That's not something you see much of in the U.S.

It has been over ten years since I lived in Europe. I miss the high level of competition and the strong club atmosphere (though I'd say Orienteer Kansas has a relatively strong club atmosphere).

For me both the level of competition and the strong clubs helped me become a much better orienteer. Suffering from small mistakes (small booms or running too slowly) force you to learn to orienteer fast (or accept bad results). Having a strong club makes it easier to train. You have people to train with, often people who have similar goals. You have advice and lots of opportunities to practice.

posted by Michael | 1:14 PM


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