The sport of orienteering in South Africa is small in numbers but big in enthusiasm and participation. This is a highly competitive international sport of map and compass navigation where fast running and rapid route decisions separate runners by split seconds. The World Orienteering Championships (WOC) are held annually and this year three South Africans flew to Switzerland to compete.
WOC opened last Saturday, 14 July 2012, with the Sprint distance qualifications. Sprint courses are no more than four-kilometres in length, which makes the pace very fast. Run on the Lausanne Polytechnic Campus, which lies on the northern bank of Lake Geneva, the terrain was runnable and similar in technical difficulty to courses held locally on large campuses like Wits University and UJ. This course was perfectly suited to 21-year old Michael Crone, a medical student at Wits Medical School.
With an easy start in his heat, Crone quickly settled into a smooth tempo, which he maintained throughout the course. He completed the course, correctly locating the 16 controls, in 13:56. Although 35 seconds behind the winner of his heat, Frederic Tranchand (France), it was a good enough run to place him in 11th position. As the top 15 from each heat go through to the Final, Crone would run again later in the day. This was the first time that a South African has qualified for any WOC Final event.
Crone’s qualification time set him as the 15th starter in the 45-man Sprint Final that afternoon. A tough start saw Crone losing seconds early on. Two additional mistakes in the later sections saw him drop down the standings.
“Running in the Sprint Final was a good experience for me,” Crone says. “My goal was qualification into the Final but I didn’t really have a plan for it once I got there”.
Crone completed the Final in 43rdplace with a time of 18:41, about three-minutes behind the winner, Matthias Kyburz of Switzerland.
Crone is a relative newcomer to orienteering, a sport he began in 2009. This was his second WOC competition. Last year, in Aix-Les-Bains (France), Crone placed 25th in the sprint qualification race, over four minutes off the final qualification place. His improvement in the last year caught many off guard and his qualification into the final this year surprised the international orienteering community.
“I made the Final even though I had about 25 seconds of mistakes so I know I can qualify again,” says Crone. A comparison of his split times from the Final to those of runners ahead indicates that a top 30 placing is well within his reach by reducing the number of small navigational errors made throughout the run.
Crone’s teammate Jeremy Green also took part in the Sprint qualifications. He placed 25th in his heat, missing entry to the Final but notching his best WOC placement. Discussing Crone’s performance Green says, “We always knew he’d make it into the Sprint Final. We just expected it to be next year and not this year! We thought he needed just a little more experience to break through… We’re thrilled to have been wrong”.
Crone and Green, together with Nicholas Mulder, ran in the Middle Distance qualifications and Green and Mulder also ran in the Long Distance qualifications but no runners made the Final.
WOC wraps up Saturday, 21 July 2012 with the men’s and women’s relay. A sport most popular in the Scandinavian countries, events welcome thousands of participants and WOC is broadcast live on television in Switzerland and Norway with live streaming on the internet.
Orienteering is governed by the International Orienteering Federation and it is recognised by the International Olympic Committee. Orienteering will form part of the World Games, which will next be held in Cali, Colombia in 2013. Rugby Sevens and Netball are other sports that will feature in Cali, although Rugby Sevens will feature in the 2016 Olympic Games.
The website for the 2012 World Orienteering Championships is www.woc2012.ch . For more information on the sport of orienteering in South Africa as well as clubs and events, please visit www.orienteering.co.za.
Photo credit: www.WorldofO.com