‘Post-90’ orientation girl set for Military World Games debut

Li Meizhen trains in the forest. /Xinhua Photo

Special: The 7th Military World Games

During the first orienteering practice, Li Meizhen descended into frustration when the former middle-distance champion swallowed a bitter pill – she came in last due to her unfamiliarity with using a map.

The “post-90” girl, born in Longyan, Fujian Province, won two gold medals in the women’s 800m and 1,500m at the Chinese Youth Athletics Championships in 2017.

At the end of 2018, she was determined to get out of her comfort zone and started orienteering. It is a sport where competitors (individual or in teams) navigate from point to point using a map and compass in the shortest possible time.

“In simple words, athletes should run according to the route shown by the map. They should run fast and find the task site to check quickly and accurately. Therefore, reading the map is very important” , explained Tao Dezhou, the orientation coach of Bayi Athletics Team.

According to the International Military Sports Council (CISM) regulations, the sport requires endurance, strength and toughness to run in the forest, excellent map navigation skills and decisiveness.

“Before discovering this sport, I thought it was quite simple – just running. Later, I discovered that it was not easy,” said Li. The biggest difficulty for her was to understand how to use a map. “I try to chase them every day. My teammates run once and I run twice.” But the inflexible girl ends up catching up with the others.

Li was injured several times during the nine months of training. Unlike track racing, competitors running at high speed through a jungle face complex terrain, while simultaneously navigating the best route.

“Orienteering is a must for soldiers. It’s a dangerous sport – a game for brave people, which tests the will,” Coach Tao said. The rate of injuries is also high, “like bruises, sprains, trips. Also watch out for snakes and wasps.”

“Life may not be a victory, and I just don’t want to lose. Orienteering is like life, which is always made up of fatigue and hope, difficulty and surprise,” said said the local competitor, who is set to make her orienteering debut in the upcoming 7th World Army Games.

Dino J. Dotson