Not Seeing the Forest for the Green

The 2017 World Orienteering Championships in Tartu, Estonia, have come and gone. After taking a few weeks to recover both physically and mentally, I am ready to go over what happened, and where we can go from here.

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First, in the words of the event director, Markuus Puusepp, “It [was] the greenest WOC so far, but they [were] technical and interesting courses.” When orienteers refer to how green a map or course is, we are talking about how thick the vegetation is. Estonia had some of the thickest vegetation seen at a World Championship in recent years, as can be seen in WorldOfO’s video.

 

Thick vegetation affects orienteers in two main ways: poor runnability and reduced visibility. In other words, you struggle to run and see through the thick undergrowth. So, Estonia brought a unique set of challenges to face. However, there were some beautiful sections of forest like the one in this clip from the Päidlapalu map.

Quickly summarizing the championship for me, I was very happy with my results. But, for further detail, here’s a rundown of my results linked to the official results:

Sprint:

28th and 0:58 seconds from qualifying for the final despite very slippery conditions when I started. This was 45 seconds closer to qualifying than in 2015.

Sprint Relay:

24th place as team, tying the best finish for the US. The two girls on this year’s team were juniors.

Long:

My star individual performance: 47th in the long. This is best finish for an American man in this distance since 1989, which, as noted by expert Boris Granovskiy, was “before the breakup of the Soviet Union created a whole lot of top orienteering nations.”  That fact and several other reasons make me satisfied with my performance. But, ultimately, I was in a competition against myself, and that day I got to mark down another victory. You can see the map with my GPS track here. (Be sure to zoom out by clicking on the minus sign at the top of the page).

Relay:

24th as a team with two of the three runners competing sick. Tied for the best finish since 2009.

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So, all in all, good steps forward. The US is not a powerhouse country in orienteering yet. We can get there, but it will take years of development and dedication. This year’s WOC was a clear sign that when we train hard and smart we can get closer to the top, one step at a time.

I lived alone for a month in a small Estonian town to prepare for this championship in Estonian forests. That sacrifice paid off and I would take the same steps were I to do it again.

In October, I will be returning to the US after five years of living abroad. Fortunately, the terrain at next year’s world championship in Latvia seems to be quite similar to many American forests. Therefore, the smart training can continue. Returning home is an exciting chapter that will bring new struggles but also new opportunities. I am excited to take on both of these with the support and companionship of my compatriots and international orienteering gang.

See you in the woods, friends!

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