The Great Southern plain of Hungary played host to the 2018 Junior World Orienteering Championships. The word great is no overstatement, as the fields and forests that surrounded the event centre of Kecskemét, Hungary seemed to go on forever as we sat on the long bus rides to quarantine. Team Ireland, consisting of three boys, namely Conall Whelan, Zac O'Sullivan Hourihan, and myself, with three girls, Clodagh Moran, Eadaoin McCavana and Emer Perkins was well led by the experienced head that is Paul O'Sullivan Hourihan.
To be straight and almost brutally to the point, JWOC this year was extremely tough. Strange terrain, melting heat and serious competition left their mark on the team. To give an example, this year's long distance race, the first of the week, was the longest ever at JWOC, with the M20 course planned at 15k long. I ended up running 17.54k, almost 10k longer than the IOC long distance. I was happy enough with what would turn out to be my best run at JWOC, 69th, 20 minutes down at 89.4 minutes, with the added bonus being a good start in general for the team, apart from poor Clodagh's ankle which would prove difficult all week.
The most unique feature of JWOC this year was almost certainly the middle distance terrain. The name Bocsà will haunt most participants forever, as the maps that bore the name are just a solid mass of green. The so called juniper labyrinth was the main feature. Imagine the bushes of the Curragh, except taller. Now cover an entire map in just the bushes and you have an idea of the terrain. All orienteering techniques or experience seem to mean nothing, the best approach seeming to be grit and bare.
Personally, I struggled with the terrain to the extent that my two race runs were dreadful. However, my team mates made up for it, with Conall missing A Final qualification by the skin of his teeth, a performance par excellence. Solid runs from everyone else kept spirits high.
Although the Middle races would prove difficult for me but fine for the others, I feel the sprint and relay prove the pedigree and competition that exists at elite level orienteering. Both races were interesting, with a good technical sprint, and fast, intricate relay terrain, and the Irish had no major issues to speak of, apart from the heat that was un-escapable in that great plain. The sprint was enjoyably technical, especially for Matt of GB who took silver. Seeing someone you have raced against for many years succeed at such a level was incredibly memorable.
As I have moved from events like the Junior Home International up to JWOC, it becomes clear that the talent is truly spectacular. The Norwegian trio that won the men's relay are simply incredible athletes, pushing sub 4 minutes per kilometer. The rumors of Kasper Fosser's training regime that circulated in whispers can do nothing but motivate us to keep up.
It is for that reason that the continuing support we junior and senior high performance athletes receive from the Orienteering community in Ireland is so important. Without the work of men like Paul, giving up their own time and money for us, I feel the aim of keeping up with Kasper would be lost. Again, I must thank him and everyone reading this for helping us in this most elusive of sports.
Finally, on a personal note, I leave this JWOC somewhat shaken, but ready for the next season with lessons learned and improvements noted. Hopefully the more familiar terrain of Denmark for JWOC 2019 will help. Oh, and of course the party keeps us going too!