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Orienteering in the Olympics
and on TV

The Elite Events Project Group (EEP) of the International Orienteering Federation (IOF) has released a proposal for the future of elite orienteering, which may change the sport at all levels eventually, even here in Chicago.

The goal of the proposal is to (1) increase the visibility of orienteering on TV and in the media, and (2) meet requirements for orienteering to be included in the Olympics. The entire report is available at the IOF web site. The biggest change would be to shorten the distances and winning times of competitive events, and bring the sport out of the deep forest. In the proposal, orienteering events would have four basic formats:

  1. Sprint events [winning time of 12-15 minutes]
    These would be like a park race where spectators line the entire course, and there is very little route choice, the emphasis being on running speed. Sprint events could be conducted in city parks, downtowns, and on college campuses. Can you imagine watching a high-speed Sprint orienteering race in Grant Park with thousands of others?

  2. Games [30-35 minute winning times]
    These would become the main format for most orienteering races and have a short-course style with many short legs. Games events would emphasize speedy control picking and de-emphasize route selection. Pairs of runners would start together and run head-to-head, doing loops in different orders with a common segment at the end. Often they would start and finish in a stadium or arena which could accommodate a large audience.

  3. Long events [70-100 minutes]
    Long events would be like the classic orienteering courses we run now. But there would be more emphasis on mass starts, repetitive loops, and other camera-friendly ideas.

  4. Relay [3-legs, 30-35 minutes each]
    Games events times three.

Other EEP changes are also proposed, such as increasing the number and frequency of world competitions. But since the U.S. is such a small player on the world orienteering scene (most world orienteering champions are still Nordic), it remains to be seen if this would positively affect orienteering in this country.

One thing is certain: if orienteering becomes an Olympic sport, we will begin receiving much more attention and funding from sponsors and agencies such as the U.S. Olympic Committee. Meanwhile much about our sport will change: new venues, shorter courses, new organizers, more money, more hype, less nature.

Remember when the 10k road race was the standard running distance back in the early 1980's? Now you have to search to find a 10k race amidst all the 5k races. But there are certainly more runners than there ever were in the old 10k days, so weren't those changes beneficial? Or, did some of you actually like the loneliness of the Long Distance Runner?

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