Completely agree with the fitness thing. If you are not putting in the work on the physical side, there is no chance of you ever doing well on an international level. In the past I don't think anyone has been fit/fast enough to compete at woc level (besides for yourself for specifically the Sprint distance). Brad managed a half-decent Sprint result, but that was just down to very clean orienteering and an okay speed.
In future if we ever want to even give ourselves the possibility of being competitive, athletes need to be far more serious about their training. Currently there is pretty much no emphasis on this and I think that is pretty crazy. We send "athletes" to international events who are running 150% slower than the top international athletes over a distance as short as short as 3km which is absolutely ridiculous. There needs to be some sort of monitoring of training in our national squads as well as consequences (i.e deselection/not being considered for selection) for those who are not putting in the training and who are simply not fast/fit enough. (Our 3km tt once every two months may be an okay indicator of speed, but there seems to be no actual follow up from these results and no motivation for athletes to actually improve).
Obviously the physical part is only one side of orienteering and the exposure to complex terrain is a major factor as well, but it is one which we can actually do something about and should have no excuse for.
2) In terms of actual orienteering:
- I Agree with the fact that our Sprint orienteering is much stronger because of our exposure to lots of (and some pretty decent) Sprint maps/events. I feel like we "enjoy" this event at jwoc/woc because it's the only one we feel comfortable enough with. It is probably the only discipline we can ever hope to do well (top 20 at woc) with the current way we are training and racing and our availability of terrain.
-In terms of "forest" races, the very small pool of technical maps in SA is a major limiting factor, but I feel like we do have a helluva lot of unmapped terrain that would be suitable (not necessarily forest areas, but more rock/dune maps such as blaauwberg) if we could only get permission to use areas as well as to get people who are able to map these areas (personally I feel the lack of high level mappers + private property in SA is a bigger issue than suitable terrain).
This is obviously something that's quite difficult to change and won't necessarily quite equip us for the technical maps we find overseas, but it would go a long way in doing so and is a much better long term option than having to travel 10000km/move countries every time we want to do some decent training.
Some other issues:
- For long distance specifically I feel like we don't get nearly enough exposure to it in SA orienteering. Firstly: we only ever run on 1:10000 maps, secondly: our "long events" tend to be won in 60-70 minutes whereas realistically the winning times should be over 2 hours when compared to a woc long+our level.
-Course planning: I feel like even when we do get to run on decent maps, courses aren't made to be particularly difficult technically- they're made more for the "weekend warriors" and not for those trying to get to an elite level.
Ease of selection:
Something I find ridiculous is how easily people are selected for national teams. Making an SA team is not an accomplishment the vast majority of the time, with it pretty much being: "do you want to go? And can you afford to go?".
There is no motivation for current athletes to actually get better (besides for those who actually want to be competitive) when they see how easy it is to make teams. This also makes the sport of orienteering look like a complete joke to non orienteers. (Compare how difficult it is to make an SA team in athletics, rugby, soccer etc to an SA orienteering team, and also the difference between how much training those athletes put into their respective sports).
In terms of WOC forest races- we only have one spot anyway and this looks unlikely to change in the near future, so this at least means there will be some competition for spots and hopefully athletes pushing each other to become better. Personally I would rather race in the forest as I feel like that is "true orienteering" and I'd therefore obviously like to be able to represent SA at woc at some stage in these disciplines , but I also would not want to do this unless I feel like I can actually be competitive. Hopefully this will also be the same mentality for our other athletes.
Obviously getting to the competitive level does require international exposure and the big 5 day competitions are great for this, but if we want to ever attract sponsorships or funding, we still need to have some representation at woc and world cup races where we are running for SA. (So what I'm trying to say is running at woc races is still important).
An aside I find quite amusing - at our current resources/level, the only reason SA athletes even stand a chance at sprint orienteering is that it finds itself in the contrived niche of excluding truly fast runners (who have no exposure/experience with navigation) but doesn't require technical orienteering skill to the same level of forest orienteering (true orienteering as Tim points out above).
i.e. "Yes please add a bit of nav so that I can beat those really fast runners but not too much because I can't actually nav very well." ;)
Very interesting thoughts chaps, thanks for sharing. Some solid comments for SAOF to consider. As one who loves the longer O (although I'm guilty of doing too few events!) I wouldn't want to see the true long forest O being put on the back seat for the sake of sprinters. There is space for everyone! :-)
@Stijn That is an interesting point. Coni (ex Swiss National Team) actually had an interesting point of view around this. She considers sprint to be more difficult for her because you have to make very quick decisions. I agree that the general notion is that sprint is far easier to learn and we can't navigate well enough to really compete in the forest, but, if you do look at the sprint specialists of other countries, they can do very well in the forest as well.
@Brian I am in no way trying to advocate that forest O takes the back seat. I'd very much like to see more maps and more training camps for the juniors. I just see it as for me I will never be an elite forest orienteer and we need to try and put structures in place to change that for the future generation. I think that we should all try and have a hand in helping the SAOF in the path forward. The danger in such a small community is that we sometimes leave things for a few volunteers.
Mike, I'm interested in how we could improve at club level. From your time in London and now Switzerland, what thoughts do you have on how those clubs run, and how we could improve?
Also, any thoughts on the SA events calendar layout, based on overseas experience?
I think there is too much emphasis on what the SAOF is doing to grow the sport. I think they're doing some good things, but they're limited by their volunteer's capacity to put in time. I think growth opportunities lies with the clubs, who have the similar constraints, but are hopefully more scalable.
@Alex Yes I completely agree that there is too much emphasis on what the SAOF is doing to grow the sport. That is the problem because as you say volunteers can only do so much. There are a lot more people involved at the club level that could also help out.
I think that my experience is that you have some very committed people at the club level who organise a lot. It does help that both SLOW and OLV Zug are really big clubs (around 300 people in each) so you are probably more likely to find people to help out and people don't get exhausted from always being the people that are called upon. I got pretty annoyed with helping all 4 days at JK this year. I was the first to arrive, last to leave on every day and had to setup all the screens for the results. They actually brought it up (without me mentioning it) at the club meeting though that people should only have to help on a single day.
I think that to a large extent the clubs here actually face the same problems. There are very few young people joining the sport and often you can only get people involved if you get their whole family involved. There is just simply too much competition with park runs and OCRs etc.
The clubs here benefit from big events where they draw in quite a few people (like the London City Race), but we do also seem to get quite a few new people at Street O and other park races. I suppose that my suggestion would be that we need to make organisation as easy as possible. Even if that means not having emit bricks etc. Make it so that we can host more, low profile events. Things like the metrogaine come to mind. Having spoken to someone in Australia they have Street O three or four times a week in Melbourne. And I can find out, but the markers are very simple.
I think that you can probably attract more people to those informal events and then draw them into the other events eventually. We have to try and make it so that orienteering is a social event that you go to each week after work, rather than focusing on trying to get people to commit to weekend events which are more intimidating. It's almost like the Night Trail Runs that Kinetic organises. I think that you tap into a different set of people.
I'll have a think about the calendar and get back to you. I actually think that it is quite similar to what we have here. I know that Switzerland is different because they are limited by breeding seasons in the forest and hunting.
I think that the frustration that I have is basically just because we have a lack of depth when it comes to elite orienteering. Policies can't be implemented because there is too little competition.