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Discussion: Planning the race arena

in: Orienteering; General

Oct 19, 2010 12:27 AM # 
Hammer:
2010 will definately be known in Canada as the year the 'orienteering arena went big time'. And by 'big time' I mean catching up to where Europe was 20 years ago.

The average North American event does not have a 'race atmosphere'. OK it does and that atmosphere is generally dull. People arrive, get their numbers go back to their car, race, go back to their car and in some cases never socialize or interact with their fellow racers.

GHO tried to change that at the NAOC in 2006 when we gave all participants 'priority seating' - a free stool that they had to take to the finish line arena area. 'please do not hang out by your car' was politely added to the pre-race info. We had some announcing and interviews. While we moved in the right direction following the race was still not as good as it could be. Then in 2008 NB added the 'red group'. What is it? The top ranked elites start at the end of the start draw to allow other age-groupers to watch the race after they are finished. It meant if you wanted to follow the race you could expect the people 'most likely' to win to all finish in a half hour (or less) period.

But 2006 and 2008 was nothing compared to what was witnessed this year at the NAOC, Barebones, COC's (and we hope GLOF as well).

I consider the NAOC this year a 'game changer'. Despite a long walk from the car it was clear when you walked into the arena that race organizer Magnus Johansson had this area as a vision for the race when he was mapping. It was spectacular and being away from the car it forced people to sit and watch. And watch they could. The spectator control, live announcing, start in the arena for the middle and sprint, up-to-date results, interviews, etc. It was exciting. It raised the profile of the elite athletes, recognized many age-groupers and made the race 'feel' like a real race. Age groupers stayed to watch. Who would win the BK Cup? Who would be NA champion? Radio controls warning when athletes were entering the arena kept people making calculations. Vlad and Balter keeping things interesting with interviews and updates. Fans lined the spectator control yelling out splits to their athletes. Sponsors were acknowledged and visible. And perhaps that final point is the most important of all.

I missed Barebones but all indications is that it surpassed NAOC in the arena department and then the Canadian Champs were high quality as well with several athletes and age-groups being highlighted and kids being interviewed by Emily the announcer too. The COC sprint was awesome to watch

As a co-course planner for GLOF my reaction to the NAOC and COCs was 'holy crap my courses aren't good enough and I need to go back to the drawing board'. We had a great arena but we didn't have courses that utilized the arena well enough.

I would argue we spend so much time trying to make a race technically perfect we don't think about the spectator appeal. In fact the 'rules' or 'guidelines' we were taught are not conducive to the new reality that the sport is. It needs to be brought to the people because if an orienteer doesn't find the race arena atmosphere exciting how can we attract new people to the sport.

So I had to go back to the drawing board and design GLOF elite courses that had spectator controls and the club had to do its homework with great support from Alberta and AZ and Pi on how to make the race exciting. This meant designing an arena that had good sight lines, had a long enough finish chute to allow people to cheer, adding radio controls, visible spectator controls, radio controls close enough to warn people on the arrival of athletes at the last control, a nice area for awards, etc. etc.

It was very cool to be able to announce within seconds of when the elite winners were 'decided'. Seeing Eric Kemp jump in the air when he finished because we had announced he had won the race was great to watch. It was also wonderful with Nevin french was able to announce to the spectators when important volunteers were finishing or club elders, etc. The round of applause they got was well deserved.

For the sport to be attractive to young orienteers and to be attractive to sponsors the race atmosphere needs to become integrated into the course planning. I'm hoping this thread will be an area we can share ideas and approaches and I welcome Europeans and Aussies that are 20 years ahead to help. Please keep this a positive thread and if examples where clubs/races didn't get it right then be constructive with the criticism because we don't always know the limitations that organizers might be under with volunteer time, permit issues, etc.
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Oct 19, 2010 12:55 AM # 
Tundra/Desert:
examples where clubs/races didn't get it right then be constructive with the criticism because we don't always know the limitations that organizers might be under

I believe a more common situation is one in which the club doesn't really have these limitations, it has perceived priorities and the arena isn't one of them. Some organizers are unconvinced of the arena's value. Some, as competitors, prefer the sport to remain low-key, and it translates to what their priorities are as organizers. I don't think it's worth embarking on a reeducation program, or imposing additional requirements in a sanctioning application. I think the good word will spread and people will vote with their feet, and I'm sure the "old way" will always be there, in some quantity, for those who like it; examples abound.
Oct 19, 2010 2:12 AM # 
jjcote:
it forced people to sit and watch

As somebody who has basically zero interest in spectator sports, this really doesn't sound all that appealing to me. If you want to set things up this way, have at it, but there will be some of us (maybe a small minority) who are going to shrug, and who aren't likely to put a lot of effort into this for the events that we set up. Something for everyone, I suppose.
Oct 19, 2010 2:50 AM # 
Canadian:
@ hammer
GHO gave several (I'm not sure how many) free entries to Canadian High Performance Program (HPP) members and had a single low entry fee for juniors regardless of when they entered. Do you have a good feel for how this affected the turnout and therefore the atmosphere of the races?
Oct 19, 2010 2:55 AM # 
j-man:
hammer: We have endeavored to make event arena considerations and related production values the focus of this event concept.
Oct 19, 2010 3:13 AM # 
AZ:
j-man - Are my eyes failing, or did you really say VIDEO in the application?
Okay, that is way-cool.

So even if people don't enjoy being spectators, they can at least enjoy the technology ;-)
Oct 19, 2010 3:16 AM # 
Hammer:
>I think the good word will spread and people will vote with their feet,

Well I'm going to vote with my feet and attend NAOC 2012 because that bid is simply awesome. Video?! Wow. Very professional. Extremely impressive. Looking forward to it already. I like the approach DVOA is taking with this. Seems like the right approach to attract sponsors as well.


@jteutsch:
GHO was following the NAOC 2010 organizers lead by supporting Canada's HPP. It seemed like the right thing to do given how awesome NAOC 2010 was.
Oct 19, 2010 3:17 AM # 
j-man:
Yes--video. It is time.
Oct 19, 2010 3:34 AM # 
AZ:
Perhaps hammer didn't quite get across the full benefit of the arena concept? It isn't really about being a spectator, it is more about making the arena a focus point, where people _want_ to hang out. The entertainment of the music and the announcing draws people, and this in turn leads to more social interaction, which for most people is kind of fun, no? An obvious side-=effect, is that the crowd actually looks substantial - which is exciting for the sport and its participants, and more attractive to potential sponsors.

I don't know, but for me the COCs was much more fun than the EMPO event - and let's be clear that the EMPO event was tremendously fun - and it is simply because of the arena atmosphere. At the COCs I just didn't want to leave the arena (it turns out orienteering races are very exciting). In contrast at the EMPO event it was pretty dull once I reached the finish control - not much to watch (approx 10 seconds of approaching runners) and even though results were fast (according to the "old" standards) it still took a relative age to know how any of the elites had done - and then another age until the next contender arrived. In the end I left without knowing who the champions were, and just looked it up on the internet after. And that is a bit of a wasted opportunity to hype the top guys too.

So I don't know that I agree with Tundra - I would say there is opportunity to convince event organizers that creating a great arena atmosphere is something that improves their events.
Oct 19, 2010 3:58 AM # 
ndobbs:
JJ, remind us where you were during the WHNO in Pawtuckaway, and tell us again you don't like being a spectator, and even a vocal one at that.

Orienteering can be a great spectator sport, and arenas done properly can be great, and should be encouraged. But... championship events should have championship standard terrain and courses. WOC this year was wonderfully exciting but left a taste in the mouth.
Oct 19, 2010 3:59 AM # 
blegg:
That's a great point AZ. The arena really should be a great place for people to hang out and socialize.

That post-race party is so important, but so rare at orienteering meets. By comparison, all my favorite trail races have a great post-race atmosphere. Plenty of food, drink, chili and cookies makes it easy to linger. Thanks to a few volunteers who are pushing the envelope, I think our club is finally starting to figure that.

The first orienteering arena show I ever saw was in Canada, (Williams Lake, I think) There was a picnic and sprint showcase in the park. Had a fantastic time and learned who all the big shots of NA orienteering were . It was only my 3rd big meet so it really left an impression.
Oct 19, 2010 10:27 AM # 
cwalker:
I just want to chime in from the perspective of an elite. I haven't been an elite for very long but I feel like interest in our national team has really taken off this year and I credit the arena concept for a lot of that progress. People actually seem really interested in and invested in what we're up to! Because of the way the arena was set up and the fundraising we were doing, I think I literally spoke to every single person who was at the COC in Ottawa! And that was actually really fun :)

Also, red groups are awesome. That attention makes it feel much more like a big race and it's really nice to feel like people care about our results!
Oct 19, 2010 2:18 PM # 
jjcote:
JJ, remind us where you were during the WHNO in Pawtuckaway, and tell us again you don't like being a spectator, and even a vocal one at that.

Sitting on a boulder, laughing loudly in the dark to mess with people's minds. Generally, I couldn't see who they were, just lights moving around in various directions.

Prefacing this comment with a note that I was not at the Canadian events this year and didn't see what the arenas looked like, I'll say that in addition to not being a fan of spectator sports (the four times I've seen professional games, I've been more or less shanghaied into it), I'm particularly uninterested in watching people finish orienteering races if that means seeing them emerge from the woods, punch at a control, and run down a chute. It misses the sport itself. Kind of like watching just the end of a basketball game where the team that's in the lead just passes the ball around to run the clock out. The most memorable orienteering spectator opportunity I can remember was at the 1000-Day relay in 1993, when the anchor runners came down a distant open hillside laced with reentrants, and we could see whether they were navigating correctly or making an error. Swampfox has set other relay with visible controls, but that one was the finest that I can recall. Likewise, at WOC93, the last bit of the classic that people could watch involved some actual running through terrain and a route choice.

But although there are examples of this sort of thing being well done (and the recent events may well be in this category), it's not what's important to me. I would be disappointed if there were so much pressure for a good "arena" that other aspects of the event were given short shrift. I'll take a race that starts and ends in the middle of nowhere over one with a great arena if the map, terrain, and courses are better in the first case.
Oct 19, 2010 2:47 PM # 
Tundra/Desert:
championship events should have championship standard terrain and courses. WOC this year was wonderfully exciting but left a taste in the mouth.

It doesn't seem that we have enough of this problem in North America to worry about, at least not after 2003. To rephrase—no recent NA event with an arena made substantial compromises in the choice/use of the terrain because of the need to accommodate the arena. (The 2003 problem was not because of the arena, but there was at least an attempt at an arena, and an unrelated problem.)
Oct 19, 2010 3:12 PM # 
Anvil:
As a newcomer to NA orienteering events who attended NAOC/COC/GLOF I was kind of perplexed when everyone was raving about how great the arena/atmopshere was at these events. To me they felt like typical national events.
After attending the races in New York last weekend, I get it now - great orienteering, dire assembly. Zero atmosphere.
I started making a list of all the major Australian carnivals I've attended over the past 15 years, but stopped after the first ten. They all had some sort of arena/spectator controls/public finish. I've seen relays decided by visible route choice to the final control, many mistakes made on spectator controls and learning of races decided in the finish chute thanks to expert commentary. These were all in a variety of locations, from the middle of large cities to the middle of nowhere.
It's my opinion that there are very few areas that cannot accommodate an arena to create spectator and sponsor interest - all it requires is an attitude shift of the general O population.
Oct 19, 2010 3:14 PM # 
expresso:
Although I enjoyed the race and the whole weekend, the GLOF middle was clearly and adversely altered to accommodate the arena. Staying up in the technical area would have made for a better courses.
Oct 19, 2010 3:36 PM # 
Tundra/Desert:
expresso—I can't identify the compromise you mention while looking at Course 8. It seems that the area was used up to the max. Perhaps for some other, shorter course it was so, i.e. the need to get to and from the arena subtracted from the use given the total length constraint.
Oct 19, 2010 3:49 PM # 
Adam:
How does a radio control work? What technology does it take? The scenarios I can think of are someone standing at the control with a walkie-talkie, or having some fancy setup that records the SI number of everyone who punches, and radios it back to the arena area.
Oct 19, 2010 4:05 PM # 
c.hill:
CISM World Orienteering Champs in Ireland back in 78' (i think).
There was a guy in a hide at every control with a watch. The previous night, all the watches were started at exactly 1200. When a runner got the control, the time and runners number was noted.
If needed the runner could be radio'd back to the arena.
Handy live split times with out expensive technology
Oct 19, 2010 4:05 PM # 
expresso:
It's not a huge deal Vlad, but course 7 started in a technical area and then had long running leg along trail & down escarpment to easy control, then to map exchange, then back up escarpment to a few semi-technical controls, then back down to finish. Without arena, my expectation is that 7 & 8 would stay up in the technical area for the bulk of the race before single descent down to less technical area near finish.
Oct 19, 2010 4:20 PM # 
Hammer:
Expresso, I welcome your comments because I redesigned ALL of the courses for the GLOF middle after attending the NAOC. I made a presentation about this at the GLOF Dinner and I've posted portions of it here.

Click on Course design under the OCross section of the results:
http://dontgetlost.ca/index.php?option=com_content...

There you will see why we chose Canterbury as our Arena and how we arranged the overlap of the different races with that arena.

Then you will see the what we had as the 'final' design of the middle distance course #8. We even had Patrick Goeres test-race it for timing in May. Thats how happy we were with it. But then going to NAOC we challenged ourselves to re-think our goals and designs. We kept elements of the original course and moved the start west a few hundred meters so courses 3-8 could get into the technical bits. Hence we feel overall the course design improved. Then came a long discussion among myself, Hans Fransson, Mark Adams and we even pulled even comments from Brent Langbakk who wasn't planning to race about the long leg back. We added this because middle distance should have some route choice legs as well. Up to that point the course had a high technical element to it and with a lot of climbing. We wanted a route choice leg that allowed people to 'open up'. And route choice we got. Just have a look at the time differential on this leg. The route variety was incredible and in many cases the race was won-lost on what you call the easy leg. I would say that 25% of the participants lost over 5 seconds on the spectator control and then a few elites left the arena in the wrong direction. Our hope was that by utilizing the escarpment decent twice and climb once we would add another 'terrain type' to a race that already had two different terrains in it. Looking at the splits mistakes were made throughout the course and that tells me the quality was not compromised.
Oct 19, 2010 4:22 PM # 
AZ:
The Radio Controls that have been used for Canadian events are entirely automated. The "regular" ePunch unit is replaced with a "master" control that has an RS232 cable plugged into an "OTS" box. The "OTS" box takes the SI punch numbers and transmits them to the announcer's computer (which has similar external hardware to receive & decode the information). "Speaker-software" on the announcer's computer then can provide running times to the control (assuming everyone started at their assigned start time !) and these can be sorted so the announcer can then give information about how the race is progressing.

Currently the overwhelming limitation has been the range of the actual radios. We have used just those "personal" radios (FSR I think they are called). In the Yukon (for next year's Canadian Champs) they will experiment with using much more powerful radios. There is also equipment that uses SMS messages (text messages) using cell phone technology (which will be great if, like some areas do, there is cell phone coverage)
Oct 19, 2010 4:38 PM # 
Hammer:
Routes from course#8 on the middle distance at GLOF. Note the long leg back to the arena added in the course re-design.


glof middle routes
Oct 19, 2010 4:53 PM # 
expresso:
Thx for the explanation and example hammer. It seems the arena did not affect 8 as much as I sensed it did 7. This was just my impression out there as I was climbing the escarpment for the second time. I would be interested in seeing the pre-arena versions of 7 & 8 to see how they changed.
Oct 19, 2010 5:26 PM # 
cedarcreek:
Tell us more about the OTS box---Is it homebrew or is it a product?
Oct 19, 2010 5:40 PM # 
pi:
http://www.gpprojects.com/
Oct 19, 2010 6:53 PM # 
Hammer:
I should clarify that the GLOF the arena was chosen first before any courses were designed. The middle and long courses were only changed to add in a spectator control following the 2010 NAOC. In the original long courses #7 and #8 there was already a map change about 4-500m from the finish area so we just did some minor adjustments to bring them into the arena. For the middle, as mentioned above, you can see the original course#8 (pre spectator control) on that link I presented. The original course #7 had the start in the arena. The first two controls were exactly the same as the first two controls on the final loop you had. At that point the course#7 followed controls 5-#16 of the original course #8 (except for a few differences in the spaghetti contour area). So instead of running through some fields and a ravine from the original version there was an additional decent and climb of the rocky escarpment terrain.

If I have time I'll upload them to the GLOF web site as I find the process and subsequent discussion of finalizing a course quite enjoyable.
Oct 19, 2010 7:48 PM # 
cedarcreek:
The one thing that bugs me about this "four races, one arena" is that the real issue that made it worthwhile was the lodging. If you had no lodging, having everyone drive to the same spot for 3 straight days might not be so appealing.

I can see this working even in the "no lodging" sense if the event was big enough. Having one really nice event center would be easier organizationally than building up and breaking down 3 different event centers.
Oct 19, 2010 9:05 PM # 
Bash:
As it turned out, the majority of competitors stayed elsewhere so it worked in the "no lodging" sense too. It really was a nice event centre with a central building, washroom facilities, optional meals available, electricity, showers, etc.
Oct 19, 2010 10:00 PM # 
blegg:
Meets in my neck of the woods (Cali) often have a nonexistent post-race atmosphere. I don't have much experience designing an arena, but I have been paying attention to what makes a good post-race atmosphere. The difference between an energetic atmosphere and a dud can be really subtle. Here are some things I've identified:

-Distance from the cars. There are two regimes where people are likely to linger. Regime #1 is when the cars are immediately adjacent to the arena - less than a couple hundred meters and in visual range. In that case, people can go too and from their cars freely. The crowd spreads out, but if needs to visit their car, they can return to the arena easily. Regime #2 is when the cars are a long walk away, greater than 10 minutes or require a shuttle service. In this case, if people have any reason to stay at the arena, they are unlikely to leave. Regime #2 is higher risk, because if people get uncomfortable you will lose them, but it's potentially higher benefit too. The Dead regime occurs when the walk to the cars just a few minutes and out of sight. If people get uncomfortable, they will find it easy to return to the car. Once there, they are unlikely to return to the arena. The crowd quickly disperses. If you are in the dead regime, you must make sure the arena is really comfortable.

How to make people comfortable?
-Provide a shelter and seats and people are more likely to stay. If they are forced to stand in the open, they are unlikely to stay for long.
- Water and electrolytes are essential, but food is even better. Make it tasty, and provide plenty. 'Just enough' food budgeting, and tightly rationing what's on the table, and people feel self conscious about grabbing what they want. But if you make it look like a real visually appealing spread, even if it's just cheap snacks, and people will remember it.
-You need a place to store stuff. After the race, people will probably want a jacket, pants, or dry shoes. The best option is to provide a safe and dry place to stash things in the arena, and make sure people conveniently visit this shortly before they start their race.
-The arena should be compact. You have to consider food, drinks, restrooms, gear storage, finish line, results, spectator spots. Generally speaking, it's better if these are close together.
-If you have a sound system, music can be fun.

Also, I've found that mass start events with a fairly tight finish window provide the most energized post-race atmosphere. 50 people finishing over 20 minutes is more impressive than 200 people finishing over 3 hours. For staggered start events you can still look to compress the start window, and at big meets you can have that tight elite start window to get some spectator action.

-Even if everybody finishes in a tight window, once the race is over, you've got about 20 minutes to start your award ceremony if you want it to be well attended. Wait more than 30 minutes and people will start to leave early. (Of course you can stretch this by providing a really nice arena - but that's pushing your luck)
Oct 19, 2010 10:15 PM # 
vmeyer:
Having one really nice event center would be easier organizationally than building up and breaking down 3 different event centers.

This was one of the reasons I signed on. Not having to set up and breakdown the download/results each day, and not even having to think about it, was a great relief.

And, being one of those last finishers (Sprint) who was cheered on running down the finish chute was fun too, albeit a bit embarrassing. I had to stop behind the building and catch my breath before making for the last control and the run down to the finish line. :)
Oct 19, 2010 11:27 PM # 
Canadian:
The best arena atmosphere I've seen in NA was the chase sprint held in Ottawa with the 2010 COCs. Granted I wasn't at the events out west this summer so I can't compare it to those.

We had some amazing announcers with radio controls set up before runners entered the arena. There was a spectator control partway through the prologue. The prologue was kept very short (9 ish minute winning time) so everyone's time was close to keep the race really exciting. This also made the start of the chase super exciting for the runners and the tension in the air at the chase start was cool to feel.

The factors that made the biggest difference though were that everyone was made to stick around for both races because of the race format. (It helps that the weather was fenomenal.) Then there was the fact that the winner was the first across the line so the race was really easy to follow. With the races nice and short the results were very close and it was exciting to watch multiple people race down the finish chute to decide between multiple places. One thing that made a big difference was how we staggered the chase starts such that the elite categories came into the finish chute shortly after most of the other runners came in so others could watch.
Other things that added to the atmosphere: Race waging, for a few dollars spectators could bet on who would win, come 2nd, come 3rd, for several of the race categories. 50% of the proceeds went to those with the most right guesses. A long finish chute through the arena maximizes the time announcers and spectators have to catch runners in the chute. PA system with music playing when the announcers weren't saying anything important.
Oct 20, 2010 12:11 AM # 
carlch:
Thanks hammer for bringing this topic up. After being at the BC events this summer and the COC's in Aug, I don't need convincing about the benefits of announcing and a nice arena. It was "festive" and in every case I hung around waiting until all the elites had finished when I would have otherwise headed back to the accommodation.

I think we haven't been doing it here in the US simply becasue we aren't used to doing it and heaven't given it much thought. (except that I have noticed PG sets courses with spectator appeal in mind). However, with discussions like this and the Canadian examples this summer, that will hopefully change and I see even now the Hickory Run event is advertising "announcing". I even think I heard vmeyer say that USOF has ordered a couple of remote reading punch staitions (or whatever they are).

It could just be that announcing and a nice arena will be our "biggest bang for the buck" in terms of energyzing our sport. I noticed a reporter interviewing the meet director at Moreau last weekend and I wonder how much more impressed the reporter would be if there were announcing and music and a more festive atmosphere. And I don't mean to suggest that orienteering by itself isn't impressive, but, to people that don't understand the sport, they will be more likely to show up if things appear lively and festive.
Oct 20, 2010 12:28 AM # 
vmeyer:
I see even now the Hickory Run event is advertising "announcing". I even think I heard vmeyer say that USOF has ordered a couple of remote reading punch staitions (or whatever they are).

Well, to be totally accurate, vmeyer :), not USOF, has purchased some equipment for US clubs to use for announcing purposes (clubs pay postage and insurance both ways). It remains to be seen if I bought the right combination of items.

I had the opportunity to practice with the setup at the GLOF events, which was so very helpful. A bit of a learning curve, but I am learning.
Oct 20, 2010 1:22 AM # 
furlong47:
How to make people comfortable?
- Water and electrolytes are essential, but food is even better. Make it tasty, and provide plenty. 'Just enough' food budgeting, and tightly rationing what's on the table, and people feel self conscious about grabbing what they want. But if you make it look like a real visually appealing spread, even if it's just cheap snacks, and people will remember it.
-You need a place to store stuff. After the race, people will probably want a jacket, pants, or dry shoes. The best option is to provide a safe and dry place to stash things in the arena, and make sure people conveniently visit this shortly before they start their race.
-The arena should be compact. You have to consider food, drinks, restrooms, gear storage, finish line, results, spectator spots. Generally speaking, it's better if these are close together.


This stuff is important. When I come in from the course, there are three things I want immediately - food/drink, a chance to wipe off the sweat, and a change of clothes. While an arena can be fun and offer great spectator (and photo, in my case) opportunities, if it is too far away I'm going back to the car first and probably not returning. I'm not going to stand around for a couple hours in a set of stinky, sweaty clothes with my stomach growling.
Oct 20, 2010 1:35 AM # 
JanetT:
T/D wrote: don't think it's worth embarking on a reeducation program

How about an education program? How about some tips about PR/promotion/what to put in a press release? There's very little of that available to guide clubs (for free). Would you be willing to write something up for the new Orienteering USA website?

Small clubs with little experience putting on A-meets go by the guidelines that have been posted on the USOF site forever. Nothing has been added to them by anyone with more experience in aspects like arenas and production. Here's your chance.

And the other question is where a small club can find people to fill those roles when they are already spread thin. :-) We very much appreciate the volunteer help we did get from outside our club in key roles. We focused on getting the key roles done properly and sadly had to leave something behind.
Oct 20, 2010 1:40 AM # 
Canadian:
furlong, is there anything that we, as organizers, can do to convince you to bring your change of clothes to the arena before you race so you don't have to go back to the car to change into clean clothes afterwards?
Oct 20, 2010 1:49 AM # 
MJChilds:
Great discussion. One nice surprise at the 2010 COCs in Ottawa was hearing a female voice doing the announcing at the sprint. In her inimitable way, Emily Kemp raised the energy of the entire crowd as she announced the approaching racers and filled in with anecdotes to keep things lively. Another detail that added drama to the finish of each event was the 12' tall flags set up by Andrew and Cathy Bakker. They raised the profile of the finish chute literally and figuratively. They were colorful, could be seen from a distance, and created a passageway through which the competitors could be seen. Anyone have photos of these?
Oct 20, 2010 1:49 AM # 
JanetT:
Yeah - it was 'great' fun schlepping my dry clothes and extra food/drink a mile +/- and then uphill to the NAOC middle arena. Not.

No European-style long schleps is a good start. Providing cover for the modest is good too.
Oct 20, 2010 2:02 AM # 
Hammer:
>having everyone drive to the same spot for 3 straight days might not be so appealing.

@cedarcreek
Why does driving to the same place make for a less appealing orienteering experience. I know (north) Americans love their cars but.....
Oct 20, 2010 4:09 AM # 
cedarcreek:
I just said having everyone drive to the same spot for 3 straight days *might* not be so appealing.

It seems to me that an event center like you had just isn't that common. I'll certainly be looking, but I just don't see this happening that often on our maps.

The basic scheme is an area with nearby middle terrain and reasonable sprint terrain. The long takes care of itself as long as you've got enough map. Obviously, you need enough trails or other easy features for many interesting beginner courses.

I'm greatly impressed by it, but I'm not sure it'll work as a general approach to organizing a big event. I'd worry that forcing a common event center would hurt the quality of the courses.
Oct 20, 2010 4:40 AM # 
cedarcreek:
And blegg is spot on with his comments about cars.

What I look for in an event center is an area that will feel crowded with the competitors there. If the lawn area is too big, people spread out. If the cars are too close, they linger at the cars and there is no crowd. An area with far-off visibility is okay as long as there are some physical or mental barriers that keep the crowd close.

I also look for a visible spectator leg or control. I've had crossing flows (runners on a collision course) in a relay, but there were only about 40 people on the course at a time, and it seemed reasonable. We could have had better taping to keep a clear route for the runners---people stood in the path of the runners. PG's relay champs in Connecticut a few years ago had very clean, nicely separated flows formed by multiple easy controls in a field as well as a small, packed event center. It was really fun to watch. I had some crazy looping courses at the 2009 (?) relay champs, and---I hoped---lots of spectator opportunities (and flows that were different for the various legs, as well as surprises for the last part of the anchor leg). I was too busy with the computer to see how it played out for the spectators, so I really don't know how well that worked.
Oct 20, 2010 5:45 AM # 
Jagge:
Announcer, finish chute with people cheering, result boards, prize giving ceremony and stuff is important for kids. It makes O races look and feel more cool, more important and something with meaning and the idea of becoming top orienteer/athlete one day and race and practice as those top guys and girls annoncer talks about doesn't sound that bad idea. For as adults it's nice, but for most of us it's not that important after all. For us it more about race against about equally strong orienteers, terrain, map and so on. Young kids can't enjoy challenging courses and best parts of terrain/map like we do, so if there is no atmosphere what we have left for them, how do we get them interested in O racing? There is friends of course, they need something to keep the group together, something they can aim together.
Oct 20, 2010 5:47 AM # 
GuyO:
Agree with JanetT

Going even further, I categorically reject the notion that convenient parking has a negative impact on the arena. The arena at the NAOC sprints was as close to parking as any could possibly be, and, IMO, had the best atmosphere of them all. The announcing, plus having the start right there, kept the arena buzzing with activity; people were not hanging out by their cars.

A well chosen and equipped arena will stand or fall on its own merits.
Oct 20, 2010 11:47 AM # 
gordhun:
On a lighter note the earlier discussion of spectator controls reminded me of one of my experiences putting spectator legs in to courses back in the 1970's.
The scene: Lac Bourgeois, Gatineau Park. There is a large parking lot overlooking the lake while on the other side of the lake was an open hillside with knolls, boulders and re-entrants for control locations.
The events: High School Championships on a Thursday, what we would now call a B Meet on the Sunday.
Courses for both events were set so that spectators - coaches, friends and fellow competitors - could see how the orienteers were progressing across the hillside on the far side of the lake from one control to the next. I was all set to take lots of photos.
'Best laid plans': For the high school event the day was so foggy that we couldn't see much of the lake let alone the other side.
For the B Meet it rained so hard we couldn't see much of the lake, let alone the other side.
The events were still a success but needless to say no photos survive.
Oct 20, 2010 12:02 PM # 
AZ:
GuyO - if you remember, the NAOC sprint course ran through the parking lot, and so after a certain time it was forbidden to enter the parking lot. So that parking lot may as well have been a thousand miles away ;-)

I do kind of agree that a well-built arena will be incentive enough that people don't hang out at the car. But still, I don't understand the complaint about long walks from parking to the arena - surely it isn't the time or the exercise that is annoying? At Barebones, where the arenas got high praise, we didn't even have cars for three of the days - people walked (up to 2km or more) from the hotels. On the fourth day there was a drive, and the parking lot was about 1.5km from the arena. The "participant surveys" we sent out had only a slight grumble about these walks from one or two participants.

I think that long walks (from the parking and/or to the start) will likely become more common, as that gives the course planner the chance to get runners into "the most fun" parts of the map. It also helps logistics, and as our events grow in size (hopefully), parking will become more and more difficult. This is another argument to build a good arena - to make the walk "worth it".
Oct 20, 2010 12:05 PM # 
jjcote:
I've had crossing flows (runners on a collision course) in a relay, but there were only about 40 people on the course at a time, and it seemed reasonable.

When I was working with the Hungarian mapper Janos Soter back in 1991, he told me about a relay event that was held on the shore of the Black Sea, I assume in either Romania or Bulgaria. There was some kind of high-rise hotel that provided a place for spectators to watch the mass start from above. The men and women started simultaneously, one group on the left, one on the right, and this was a large event, with hundreds of teams. He explained that the first controls were set such that the first legs intersected in the open area in front of the hotel, and then had to consult his ditcionary to find the word that he needed in order to describe the result: "Spectacular!". Someone else may know more details about what event this was, and when and where it was held.
Oct 20, 2010 1:48 PM # 
Adam:
What things can you do with the data from the radio controls? (such as project it on a screen, have the announcer track the elites progress, ect)?
Oct 20, 2010 2:58 PM # 
Nick:
the event JJ is mentioning was not in Romania- probably Bulgaria, but don't know details about that. but indeed - must be spectacular
Oct 20, 2010 3:01 PM # 
mikeminium:
Here are a few lines from my Event Advisor's Final Report from the NAOC that describe the layout. You could see the runners actually navigating as they passed through the "arena" before doing the final part fo their course then returning to the finish. Radios at the controls before they emerged from the forest allowed the announcer to tell who would be coming and how far off the winning time they were (much like the announcers do on Olympic time-trial events such as Slalom skiing and Luge where they call out split times: eg: "Jorgen is 10 seconds behind Yuri's time at the radio control"). The announcer adds excitement by commenting on the data, for example reporting that the current leader appears to have lost time on a particular control (from split data). One key is getting data (radio control splits, split times of those who have already finished) to the announcer's computer immediately. At the NAOC, tundradesert and balter teamed up to provide real-time announcing, color commentary, and interviews of competitors. Another key is that the announcer have detailed knowledge about the competitors and their history, so he/she can talk about their past finishes, strengths, recent injuries, etc.

Excerpt from Middle Distance: The start was in the arena, so spectators could see each elite runner start, but the start triangle itself was on top of a large spur, so competitors immediately disappeared from sight and had no visibility of those ahead. At about the 2/3 point, they passed through the arena surrounding the finish area, with spectators having a clear view of competitors as they located two controls on an undulating, mostly open hillside with a few boulders and copses forcing the runners to stay focused. A radio control provided early warning and announcing as competitors entered the arena. Near the end of the second loop, another radio control provided early warning of finishers before they came to a final control in the arena then into the finish.

Excerpt from Long Distance: Near the end of the course, several short legs passed through an intricate rock formation, then descended to pass through the arena before doing a very short (less than 1 km) loop and returning to the finish. The addition of this loop provided excellent spectating, and announcing added to the excitement.
Oct 20, 2010 3:40 PM # 
Pink Socks:
Another key is that the announcer have detailed knowledge about the competitors and their history, so he/she can talk about their past finishes, strengths, recent injuries, etc.

They even knew a little bit about me, as basically a rec runner running the elite course! Ever since NAOC, I've told people that that was the first time that I felt I was actually running in an athletic competition, and not participating in a convention of hobbyists. And even for someone like me, who is probably closer to a hobbyist than an athlete, I prefer the more athletic feel. It's electric.

Excerpt from Long Distance... The addition of this loop provided excellent spectating, and announcing added to the excitement.

It was even exciting when the results weren't in doubt. For example, I remember Ross and Patrick passing through the start of the loop at the same time. At that point, Patrick was ahead either 4 or 6 minutes, I think. So even though Patrick would post a faster time, it was still exciting to see the two best guys in NA racing around this mini loop. Who's going to win the mini loop? I thought that made for some excitement, when it otherwise wouldn't have been there.
Oct 20, 2010 3:45 PM # 
andrewd:
What things can you do with the data from the radio controls? (such as project it on a screen, have the announcer track the elites progress, ect)?

I don't really have time to read this entire discussion but caught hints of it from scanning. I was heavily involved in the recent park world tour event in Scotland: http://www.scottish-orienteering.org/pwt2010/
which had a big screen, live results, commentary, radio controls (using OTS boxes) among many other things.

we used the live control punch data for two things: feed the commentary laptop screens (so the commentator can announce things) and to populate the live results pages ( http://o-results.net ). The big screen hardware we were using wasn't really up to putting results up otherwise we would have done that too. I'm in the middle of compiling a write up of the event from a technical perspective, I'll link it here when I'm done.

Doing the PWT was a big eye opener in terms of arena production, there are so many variables that go into it! hopefully Scotland will win the WOC 2015 bid we've submitted so we can show what we're truly capable of producing :)
Oct 20, 2010 4:28 PM # 
Hammer:
To track athletes on the 'speaker' software it is advantageous to have the top ranked athletes start in a red group near the end of the start list. This allows the spectating to take place in a smaller window. This goes against the long drawn out start lists that seems to exist at some US races. I was told that there is a USOF rule to deliberately keep high ranked athletes apart in the start list. Having just organized a race without a red group I would highly recommend using a red group since it keeps the excitement focused. Also the 'speaker software' (I believe) does not work if organizers are using a start unit. When a start unit is used a person can be late for their start and receive no time penalty so the software won't know when the individual started.
Oct 20, 2010 4:57 PM # 
Pink Socks:
Does the Red Group have an unfair advantage? It seems like all individuals within the Red Group have the same advantage, but maybe those outside the Red Group do not? How do, say, the 5 slowest Red Group guys compare to the fastest 5 non Red Group guys? Is there any data that supports either way?
Oct 20, 2010 5:25 PM # 
Tundra/Desert:
I was told that there is a USOF rule to deliberately keep high ranked athletes apart in the start list.

There isn't. It's yet another one of these cultural things that begs for reeducation, but that would not be practical nor politically correct. It's better to start to apply the best practices and hope they will catch on. Any attempt to codify things in writing is likely to get bogged down in Orienteering USA's rulemaking process, and emerge several years behind its relevance point.

I had the honor of selecting the Red Group at the NAOCs. Curiously the only complaint I heard was from a Canadian. In the U.S. we've had a long-brewing issue about close-ability starts at the Team Trials, but this issue is somewhat different because the total number of people at the Trials is less than the NAOC had in the Red Group. It's more akin to seeding people within the Red Group according to reverse ability/ranking a-la WOC. This latter will not fly in the U.S., but I see no reason why a separate Red Group should generate much controversy as long as it is known in advance what the selection criteria for it are ("according to the organizers' whim" is a borderline acceptable criterion).
Oct 20, 2010 5:27 PM # 
AZ:
There is probably some argument that the Red Group has an advantage (that's why everyone wants to run last at WOC?), but the main disadvantage non-Red-Group runners have is that they aren't as good at orienteering ;-)

The big issue is how to select the Red Group to make sure it contains all the "contenders". And there are a ton of variables in there, as you might imagine
Oct 20, 2010 7:04 PM # 
jjcote:
(that's why everyone wants to run last at WOC?)

Actually, I think it's because the vegetation will all be beaten down by then.
Oct 20, 2010 7:28 PM # 
GuyO:
if you remember, the NAOC sprint course ran through the parking lot, and so after a certain time it was forbidden to enter the parking lot. So that parking lot may as well have been a thousand miles away ;-)

Forbidden? Really?? I did not attempt to leave/reenter the arena, so I did not recall such an arrangement. How was it enforced? By locking the gates?

I don't understand the complaint about long walks from parking to the arena - surely it isn't the time or the exercise that is annoying?

For me, it is mostly the inconvenience, with time being a key part; the effort/exercise is much less important. As JanetT indicated above, the need to schlep all one's necessities and amenities to/from the arena is the problem. One has to carefully decide what to bring, because having to go back to the car is onerous -- especially with limited time before one's start. There is definite value to being able to go back to one's car after a race to change, grab a snack, and in general get refreshed, before heading back to the arena.

Again, making the arena attractive -- and what I saw this summer indicates that Canadian organizers have this down pat -- will go a long way to ensure that those of us who do go back to our cars will return.

Also, as this past weekend (US Classic Champs) showed us, a significant walk and/or bus ride to the start can have great value in enabling access to the best terrain. What makes this much more tolerable than a long parking-arena separation, is only having to carry the barest of O-ing necessities with us -- and it being a one-way trip.
Oct 20, 2010 8:30 PM # 
AZ:
Hm - actually, maybe the parking lot at the NAOC sprint was only embargoed before you ran - so we all had to be in the arena by a certain time and remain there until our race. This was to avoid us seeing route choices of earlier runners. But now I think about it more, I can't see any reason why we would have been forbidden to go to the cars after our race - unless there was concern that it should be an all-or-nothing embargo, so to make enforcement simpler. In which case, ignore my earlier comment ;-)
Oct 20, 2010 11:31 PM # 
jmnipen:
i guess it was still okay. It prevented people from opening their car doors when runners wanting to go by or similar?
Oct 21, 2010 12:24 AM # 
simmo:
Surely your red group would be based on rankings, as it is here in Australia? In which case if there is an advantage to being in a red group (which I doubt) you can do something about it, ie earn yourself a better ranking. If the event was a WRE then the start has to be reverse order based on World rankings - and incidentally WRE events must follow the Leibnitz Convention so a good arena set-up is mandatory.

In Australia our biggest event (the Easter 3 Days) has often used the same arena on all three days, and quite often our next two biggest events (the National Long and Relay champs) which are on consecutive days use the same arena - as they did in 2009 when several North Americans were over hers for WMOC.
Oct 21, 2010 12:32 AM # 
cedarcreek:
I suppose having cars convenient is not an arena killer. The case that stands out to me was a campground, where lucky people had good locations, but others had a long way to go, and once they got to their cars, it was quiet and they could relax and change and "oh well, nothing going on", so let's leave.

The OCIN Friday event this year had an event center with not enough parking, so there was a decent atmosphere right at the finish, but half the people left to go to the other parking lot. Plus the food tent was in the other parking lot, *way away* from anything.

I was trying to think of what makes a good arena, and I was thinking of an amphitheater. They're a pretty common feature on maps, especially scout camps. But they're not quite right. They have seating, which is great, but they tend to be in a bowl, where they give spectators good visibility to a stage.

What I think we (as planners) are looking for is a "reverse amphitheater". We want spectators packed onto a well-defined "stage" where they have views out to competitors on parts of the course, or (less ideally) to competitors passing adjacent to the "stage".

Obviously there is the stadium, where there is seating that overlooks a field. Is it better to have bleacher seating, or just people standing? Which is better, mingling in a crowd with limited visibility, or sitting with a fixed set of neighbors but with a better view? Is it possible to use a natural hillside for lawn or picnic type seating to give a middle ground---a more spread out crowd, but with people able to change positions more than bleachers allow? And what is the split between viewing and socializing? The food table is probably an important part of this.

What are some examples of superior ad hoc arenas? Car racing---hills next to the track? Isle of Man TT? Parades?

{sorry---just thinking out loud}
Oct 21, 2010 2:18 AM # 
mikeminium:
Obviously some areas are more conducive to an arena setting than others. And of course weather is a big factor in whether people will stick around. Any area with a good field of view works. Ideally it will have features where competitors can be seen navigating (The mostly open hillsides with small reentrants, some rock features and single trees and copses at NAOC Middle and US Relay Champs) were ideal). Competitors should either be visible for at least 1 control and part of a leg before disappearing on a short loop then returning to the arena or for 2 or 3 controls before the finish. If the arena is at a corner or edge of the competition area, sometimes its not easy to go out for another loop.

The NAOC Long and the Niagara Falls Sprint used the "GO" control (final control) twice with runners hitting it, doing the short loop, then hitting it again. The OCIN hosted US Interscholastic Championships (Day 2) had runners on upper level courses passing by the finish area and around the spectators before doing their final 3 or 4 control loop and returning to finish, but the variety of route choices and lack of radio control made announcing difficult. And the lack of a large open area in the forest limited how far away competitors could be seen, although it was pretty open through the trees.

I like the arena concept for championship races, WRE's and when it is possible without significantly detracting from the navigational challenges. But it is not reasonable or appropriate to expect every event to have an arena setting. At the US Classics for example, it would have been necessary to lengthen courses with bland legs (or reduce the portion in the intricate plateau area) in order to do any kind of spectator friendly loop near the finish. Also, starts were spread over such a long window that this would have given advantage ot later starters who could watch early finishers. A radio control could have contributed to announcing of finishers, but a small club's first focus should be on the orienteering itself and they may not have had the resources and personnel to pursue this.

Having seen the "red group" concept used at several Canadian events, I think it is great for spectator friendliness. Definitely something that should be considered at other major A meets. We've done some reverse seeded start lists before, with the same idea.
Oct 21, 2010 3:12 AM # 
fossil:
The most memorable orienteering spectator opportunity I can remember was at the 1000-Day relay in 1993, when the anchor runners came down a distant open hillside laced with reentrants, and we could see whether they were navigating correctly or making an error.

Oh my. The painful memory. The 3 fast women on my team ran well and put me out on the anchor leg in the lead. I had no idea how much lead I had so I was running in fear the whole way. I spiked every control until that hillside. Coming over the top I saw the crowd in the distance and I guess got distracted. While the crowd could see which reentrant the control was in, I could not. The first one I tried was empty. I was flustered but got it right on the 2nd try.

By the end of the course I finally saw the young Swede closing on me from behind. But there were still a couple controls left to go in and around the area where the crowd was watching. They were hidden in some weird linear ditches. I jumped in and ran along the bottom hoping to force the young Swede to do his own navigating and not just follow. (Honestly, yes, that's what I was thinking at the time.)

The final approach to the finish was uphill and he finally caught and passed me there, less than 100 meters from the line. It must have been exciting to watch. Had I only spiked that spectator reentrant the result might have been different...

But yes, a very fun race regardless!
Oct 29, 2010 2:15 PM # 
Una:
As a course designer for very small local meets (club founded in 2003), I am finding this thread very interesting. Keep it coming!

This month I attended a SAR radio training where we set up a short daisy chain of radio repeaters to pass signals across terrain. That was cool! It allowed us to put low power handheld radios in specific locations (think control points) that would have been radio dead spots if the repeaters had not been in use.

The plan had been to set up a temporary Ubiquiti network (http://www.ubnt.com/), but at the last minute the equipment was not available.

This discussion thread is closed.