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From Faaborg to Crystal Lake...An Orienteer Compares the Sport in Denmark and Illinois

Last spring a 22-year-old elite Danish orienteer Ulrik Hjort Lassen briefly visited Chicago and attended the Veteran's Acres and Busse Woods meets while he was here. Club Secretary Dave Macaulay had a grandmother who came from the same part of Denmark, and he struck up a conversation with Ulrik.

Similar to most Scandinavians, Ulrik began orienteering when he was only 5 years old. He was initially accompanied by his parents in the woods and first competed alone at age 7. At age 8 he did his first O-Ringen in Sweden, a famous week-long event that annually attracts up to 25 000 orienteers and is covered on TV and in all the newspapers.

Ulrik belongs to the Faaborg OK (orienteering club) named for a town of about 5000 people in central Denmark. In many European countries it is common for sports programs to be run by separate clubs, not by schools and colleges. As a result, youngsters are recruited into various sports clubs early and are developed as team members all through their life; participation in sports does not end upon graduating, as it does for many people in the U.S.

In Denmark, Ulrik would normally go to an orienteering event once a week in the spring and fall, and train with his club after school. There were three orienteering clubs on his Danish island, none more than an hour's drive from his home, so there were many opportunities to orienteer. Instead of taking the summer months off, serious orienteering families and clubs traveled around Scandinavia and competed in various week-long events.

In addition, junior orienteers (ages 10-21) annually attended four orient-eering camps. Three 3-day camps were held in the winter and one 8-day summer camp was held, usually in Norway or Sweden. Ulrik says these intense training camps were "really good" because they offered full days of orienteering drills in the woods with opportunities to socialize and make friends in the evenings.

Ulrik became quite competitive as a junior and earned a spot on the Danish Junior National Team for two years and participated at the Junior World Orienteering Championships in France and Bulgaria (where he ran while injured) and became the Danish national champion "a few times." As a result, Ulrik lived and trained in Norway for two years in order to develop his running and technical abilities alongside the world's best orienteers.

Ulrik's orienteering has taken him to Sweden, Norway, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, Tjechia (Czech Republic), Bulgaria, New Zealand, Australia, and now the United States. This spring Ulrik worked and lived on a farm near Elizabeth, Illinois (southeast of Galena). After finding the CAOC web page he came to the May 19 Veteran's Acres event in Crystal Lake. He easily ran the quickest time on the long course, wearing only shorts. Ulrik says he was surprised by the thick, thorny underbrush on most Chicago area maps. Scandinavian woods do not have as much underbrush, bugs or poison ivy, so it is common for orienteers to wear shorts and a tee shirt in the summer.

Ulrik said that our event was similar to a normal "training event" in Denmark. By that he meant that in Europe such an event would not be a timed competition but would be more focused on improving orienteering skills.

After talking with Ulrik, Dave became motivated to find some serious orienteering training. He is exploring the opportunity to attend various Scandinavian orienteering camps this summer and then compete at various week-long meets including the World Masters Orienteering Championship (July 13-17) in Halden Norway and the O-Ringen (July 20-25) at Uddevalla Sweden.

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