Valley News – ‘The Thinking Sport’: Dartmouth hosts Orienteering Championships

Hanover – Seventy-five years ago, Dartmouth College held what it believed to be the first orienteering competition in the United States. This weekend he will show how far the sport has come since then.

Dartmouth will host the North American Orienteering Championships, a biennial event sanctioned by the International Orienteering Federation. It pits the best orienteering athletes from the United States and Canada – along with some of the best from around the world, as well as amateurs – in a series of races where navigation skills are just as important as speed.

Over 500 athletes from the United States, Canada and Europe have pre-registered and more are expected on race days. Those from the United States and Canada who belong to one of their country’s national federations will be eligible to earn points for their nation by participating in the Bjorn Kjellstrom Cup, awarded to the highest cumulative points scorer in North America.

The 21 and under from the United States and Canada will compete for the Future Champions Cup, while many Europeans are hoping to improve their international ranking. Others will simply participate for fun, although it may be a bit difficult for beginners.

Success requires skillful use of a compass as well as topographical map-reading skills to help navigate the courses, which vary in distance and elevation depending on the age and ability of the classes. Time limits are imposed as competitors wear a computer chip to register at a series of checkpoints, also called controls, along the routes.

“Some people call it ‘the sport of thinking’ because it tests your mental ability as much as your physical ability,” said Wolfeboro, NH resident Peter Goodwin, who recently stepped down as president of USA. Orienteering, the country’s national governing body and co-host of the event. “There is definitely an endurance aspect to it. You move fast, but you have to read the map to figure out how to get from point “A” to point “B”. ”

Hannover’s Storrs Pond recreation area and Oak Hill will host Saturday’s middle distance events, which range from 2.2 kilometers, 45 meters of elevation gain and 11 checkpoints, for children aged 10 and under, to 5 .5 km, 205 vertical meters and 26 controls for those in the “blue” category for men aged 21 to 35. The time limit for the mid-distance events is two hours, as participants dig through the mixed hardwood forest and rocky areas of the Storrs Pond area.

“There are cross-country ski trails interspersed in there, so riders will have to make choices about whether to leave the trails,” said Dartmouth assistant director of outdoor programs Brian Kunz. “They may have to judge the contours on the map and decide if bushwhacking might be more effective than staying on the trails.”

Saturday’s long-distance events will be held in Lebanon’s Burnt Mountain region and will feature courses up to 5.5 kilometers long with 205 meters of elevation gain and 26 checkpoints. Burnt’s relatively steep and varied terrain should be a challenge for even the elite orienteers in attendance.

That includes Alison Crocker, a 2006 Dartmouth graduate who was introduced to orienteering by a math teacher at St. Paul’s School in Concord. Crocker, now a professor at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, has competed in the World Orienteering Championships five times.

“I have to say the long distance events are my favourite, simply because they are the most difficult,” said Crocker, whose 15th-place finish in the sprint at last year’s WOC in Scotland was the highest ever. by an American guidance counselor in this event and this scene. “It’s great for athletes who also like problem solving. You’re constantly trying to find the best route while testing your body’s limits in the rocky woods of New England.

Sunday’s sprints and sprint relays will be the most spectator-friendly, held on and around the downtown Dartmouth campus. The routes will range from 1 to 4 km and up to only 65 meters of elevation gain and 24 checkpoints, with a time limit of one hour.

Although the sprint courses are shorter and generally more forgiving than the medium and long distance events, they are no walk to Dartmouth Green.

“The sprints are technically the easiest of the three because you’re going around buildings and down streets instead of through forest,” said Crocker, whose parents, Nancy and Larry Crocker, are Grantham residents.

“But there are still unpredictable things that you might not expect, and you still have to be good at reading maps,” Crocker added. “Let’s say it looks like there’s a clear path between the buildings for the next checkpoint, but it might be next to a facilities services building that has a fence so you can’t pass The map may only have a thin black line to indicate this, but it will save you time if you can recognize it before you arrive and have to turn back.

Especially during wooded events, almost all orienteers spend time, for lack of a better term, disoriented. Goodwin, 64, has found he’s more effective when he’s not forcing speed.

“I tend to plod along, and sometimes (those who rush) overtake me three or four times, which is usually a good sign because it means they’re turning around a lot more than me,” said Goodwin, who comes from Last weekend he competed at the two-day American Classic Championships in Pound Ridge, NY “You could be lost for five minutes, you could be lost for 20 minutes, but at the end of the day, everything the world is coming out of the woodwork.”

In 1941, Dartmouth military ski instructor Piltti Heiskanen held what the college considers America’s first orienteering competition when he pitted fraternities against each other in an event they called “Tiedust.” .

Kunz, the director of the Dartmouth Outing Club, said hosting this weekend’s event is helping the campus come full circle with the sport 75 years later.

“Obviously there’s a rich history with the sport here,” he said. “We are thrilled to serve as a co-host (with USA Orienteering) and hope people will really enjoy visiting the area for it.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3225.

Dino J. Dotson