Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Which of these courses is better?


Take a look at these two course. Both are about the same length.

Which of the courses is better?

The answer, which should be obvious, is "you can't tell."

But, I bet that when you first look at the courses, you think that the second alternative looks like a better course.

One of my many flaky theories is that good courses tend to leave a distinct "fingerprint." That is, a pattern in the characteristic. The second courses has more variety in leg length and more direction changes. That gives the overall shape - the fingerprint.

I don't think the shape causes a course to be good. I think the shape is a symptom of a good course. A good course causes the shape.

posted by Michael | 7:41 PM


I've been thinking a lot about course fingerprints lately while trying to figure out exactly how to define a "good" course. While a good fingerprint doesn't always indicate a good course, a bad print almost always indicates a bad course. Unless there is tons of interesting stuff between the controls in the first print above, forcing you to make intricate route choices and direction changes, it is going to be a pretty boring course. This is only likely to happen in an urban setting, so maybe it is possible to say that all course fingerprints that look like print A would make bad courses in the woods.

I think a study of course fingerprints should be included in any manual on course setting.
I think it likely depends whether this is a sprint (summary of sprints: boring terrain is used, only the tricks of course-setting make it interesting, and so fingerprint 2 is clearly better), or real orienteering (the terrain is interesting in its own right, course setting tricks are unnecessary, and so either fingerprint could be better, but fingerprint 1 just might be better since you can't ever just run to a previously-seen feature).

Of course, fingerprint 2 fits more course into a smaller area of the map, so economically it's better (less fieldwork per race).
As a course setter I like to change direction and distance of legs since
(in general) longer legs generally either test route choice or rough compass while short legs test precision compass and likely finer map reading. So I would likely prefer #2.

I don't have my maps in front of me but #1 looks like one of the days of the 1996 NAOCs.
The sprint summary as "boring terrain, only the tricks of course setting make it interesting" depends upon the culture of event planning. Many sprints are placed in ubinteresting urban terrain. But sprints can be different if you have intricate, but fast natural terrain. Open granite or gold mining won't be boring. But such terrain isn't always compatible with the media requirements of major sprint events.
For a long mass start I would most likely prefer #1
For all other forms of orienteering I would prefer #2
It should be noted that in hilly and mountain terrains fingerprint n.2 isn't so easy to achieve. Some steep and interesting coursers can have "ugly" fingerprints...
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