The Orienteering World Cup Final 2019, China

Niall McCarthy and Nicolas Simonin traveled to the Guanghzou region of China recently to represent Ireland at the Orienteering World Cup. Following on from the Military World Games the previous week, Orienteering made headlines across the world, unfortunately not for the right reasons as disputes against a number of athletes were upheld by IOF officials. Watching the races from the armchair, the intricate sprint terrain with narrow passages high walls and little in the way of visuals gave the European athletes plenty to work on, a similar scenario in the forest terrain where jungle is difficult to equate with our own temperate forests. Those athletes who were given the luxury of training in Asia would have had an enormous advantage.

Niall takes us through his trip and races….

On the morning of Thursday the 24th October, I started the longest journey I’ve made to date for an orienteering race – just over 16 hours from Dublin to Guangzhou via Amsterdam. So with my Visa in hand (issued by some bewildered embassy workers who’d never heard of the sport), and a bag full of o-gear, I arrived in China the following Friday morning.

I knew that I had very little technical orienteering done since the summer, but I was hoping that the forests (or jungles?) of China mightn’t prove to be as technical as their European counterparts, and I might hold my own and try get a decent result in the final round of the orienteering world cup. Arriving at the hotel five minutes before the bus to the model event, I had made it just in time! The model event was on an unused section of the map and proved to be a good indication of the race the following morning – green and tough and using paths was going to be key for route choices.

On the Friday night we were treated to a very unique and spectacular opening ceremony – the Chinese organisers were certainly hoping to make a lasting impression on the orienteering community. By the time we were back at the hotel, I was delighted it was finally time for bed.

Waking up Saturday morning, I was fresh, rested and looking forward to the race (thankfully my body doesn’t seem to understand how to get jet-lagged). What was to follow however was one of my poorest performances in recent years. No big major mistakes, but a plethora of minor ones, losing time somewhere along the way at nearly every control. My rusty orienteering technique was evident and I was very disappointed with myself for allowing it to happen. The race itself was a very unique setting – Xiqiao Mountain, the plateau of an extinct volcano right in the middle of the city, scattered with ancient burial sites and a large network of paths, and surrounded in every direction by a never ending urban environment. I thought the course itself made quite good use of the area available, in what felt at times like a jungle.

Sunday morning we made our way to Nanhai Movie and TV Town for the sprint relay. With no competitive team, I watched Switzerland clinch victory only taking the lead on the final leg, while cheering on Nick who ran in a mixed team, all before sneaking in a quick tempo-effort run on the map shortly after the official race ended.

Monday was a rest day, and I used this opportunity to sharpen up my sprint-o technique on a training map a mere ten minutes jog from the hotel. The sprint map was crazy and proved to be highly relevant for the race the following day – tiny paths (60cms wide in places) winding through a residential area (it might be harsh to call it a Favela of sorts!) creating an absolute maze. One tiny lapse in concentration and you found yourself struggling to relocate in a grey concrete jungle. There were even locals at their doorsteps cheering on the large amount of teams using the training map that morning! The biggest taking point from the model was that map contact in the race was going to be essential. Relocation following a lapse in concentration is usually fairly simple in sprint-o, but Chinese labyrinths were a whole different ball game.

“The sprint map was crazy and proved to be highly relevant for the race the following day”

Tuesday finally rolled around and I was looking forward to the race. I even did ten minutes on the same training map as part of my pre-breakfast jog in an attempt to hone my skills one last time. The race itself proved to be fast and furious with a wealth of route choice options and areas for mistakes. Even the best, most experienced orienteers were dropping large amounts of time throughout the course. Trying to keep to my plan of steady and clean, I was reasonably happy with the first 8 or so controls, and felt reasonably in control of my race. However, after the 8 control I decided to try up the pace and this proved to be detrimental to my performance. I had a poor 9th control getting disorientated in the tiny streets and paths surrounding the control. While this was followed by a couple of easier controls where I regained some confidence, it wasn’t long before I was back “on the edge” and I made some further rushed decisions and lost crucial time in the latter sections of the course, and thus any chance at a decent result.

Map-Men sprint

In an attempt to make the most of my trip, I tried to put the bad parts of the race behind me and made the most of my remaining time in china, enjoying the atmosphere and sun as I warmed down in the arena and watched as the top elites started flowing into the finish. It wasn’t long before I was back on a 16 hour plane journey that Tuesday night and straight into work Wednesday morning back home in Ireland. A short trip (very busy season at work) – but a memorable one nonetheless.

On reflection

Reflecting back on my trip, there was both positives and negatives to take from the experience. I was disappointed with myself for allowing myself to go to an international competition after very little orienteering practice directly before the races, but at the same time, there was also positives to take from sections of the sprint race, and to a lesser degree the middle distance. I guess it also didn’t help that my season largely ended in mid-August, and this late race in late-October was somewhat separated from the rest of the racing season.

Another season older and wiser (apparently) and I’m delighted to be starting into the winter training period and hoping to set up a solid base for the coming year. While it’s always exciting to be looking at the international calendar, Irish Championships is always going to be an orienteer’s bread and butter. The only Irish titles I’ve won in the senior class are in the sprint distance and the relay, so looking forward to next May it’s safe to say the middle and long distance races will be top of next year’s agenda.

And finally, I’d like to thank Darren and Aine for all their help, helping to sort entries, accommodation and even a please-get-my-visa-sorted-asap embassy letter.

Many thanks to Niall for taking the time to share his experience with us.

If you would like to share your orienteering experience at home or abroad, please contact Debbie on comms@orienteering.ie