Friday, August 4, 2017

Re-living the rhyme Canada went to World Games

Every four years, the world of the sports that gaze through the supposed pearly gates of the Olympics come together to say "Hey, we're cool too!". Orienteering is a member of this exclusive club, and myself and three fellow teammates, Emily Kemp, Tori Owen, and Damian Konotopetz, and intrepid team leader Marg Ellis headed to Poland to represent Canada at the World Games. I've asked each to summarize their experiences of a particular event, before I go into more detail.

In limerick form.

The World Games - by Will
Canada went to the Poland World Games,
Orienteering lots and seeing weird sports were the aims.
Though long bus trips and running real fast,
Meant they executed the first but not the last,
Culprits like "sore legs" and "rather be napping" were their names.

The World Games week consisted of three races, a sprint, a middle, and a sprint relay. In general, the aim of the World Games is to make the races visible, easy for spectators to follow, and in easy to reach areas. Again, sort of thinking forward to the Olympics. How do you come up with races when the area is decided for you? What if the terrain is not the best terrain you have? How do you make it interesting for spectators? What if you are in a place that does not have any orienteering tradition? Although these are debates that will no doubt go on forever on the topic of "Olympics - Yay v. Nay", the World Games are an opportunity, in a way, to try those things out. In Poland, this is quite fortunate, because they seemed to have plenty of decent sprint terrain, and a forest that, although not their best, was pleasant and interesting.

Regardless of those issues, these sort of events are a pleasant change because generally everyone is on even ground. We all stay in the same accommodation, we all take the same transportation, we eat mostly all the same food. For brief moments the clear dichotomy between the "have" and "have not" countries in orienteering become slightly less distinct. Except for the massage tables. And, in the grand scheme of things, we all would have run at the World Games, regardless of the terrain, than not at all.

To preface all the races, you can see GPS tracking, TV coverage, results et al., by signing up at

The GPS is also available at

The Sprint - by Tori Owen
The aim here is to run as fast as you can.
Trying not to be distracted by stadium, camera or fan.
Equally important is to read ahead and plan your route
For if you don’t, your efforts will be moot,
Full speed, no mistakes, that’s what makes a sprint man!

The sprint was in downtown Wroclaw for all to see,
I had no points, its been a while since my last WRE.
At first they didn't give me a start place,
And then I got interviewed after the race,
I'm really not a fan of watching myself on TV.

The Sprint stadium in all its glory during the opening ceremonies.
My favorite opening ceremonies are short ones.
The first of the races was the sprint, held right in downtown Wroclaw, which looked like a really fun area. The start/finish was right underneath where the climbing venue was, which loomed large over the start. And, in general, I'd say the planners did a fairly good job with this sprint. It perhaps could have been more technical in some areas, but was generally well done. This definitely favoured the strong runners. I personally had a blast running through the impressive square in Wroclaw, through clueless tourists, cafes, and postcard stands. Honestly, I'm always astounded by people who see a sweaty, drooling person in shorty-short-shorts running straight towards them wearing a number and just continue on their day as if nothing is happening. Does that not cue something in the brain that says "Hmmm.... something is going on..."? Is there not a least a small bit of curiosity?

Does it not just seem that the lady is saying "FINE! Take the map, SEE IF I CARE!"?
Regardless of the oblivious non-spectators, there's always something special about running around the downtown of a European town. Its such a fun way to explore Europe, and if I were offered either a 3-hour walking tour or a 15-minute race, there is no question which one I would choose. If you don't sprint, you're missing out on such a unique element of orienteering. They're not all gems, but... you take the good and you take the bad.

The Middle - by Emily Kemp
Middles! Hooray! Time to focus on the technical side,
The terrain was thick and green, I kept a short stride.
Even still, a fun little area to race,
despite the clearings having shrubs higher than my face,
And they didn't even let us on the waterslide.
The Middle arena with the Women's podium. And the aforementioned waterslide.
Overhearing some conversations suggested that the middle terrain we used for the World Games was not necessarily Poland's best. I've seen some other maps, and this is probably true. The area was fairly green. At some points a quite runnable light green, at some points an extremely prickly dark green, and yellow? Don't go anywhere near the yellow!

Again, in the effort of making it TV and spectator friendly, the area was quite small, involved more controls that is typical in a middle (for the men, 30), and involved an arena passage. I would actually say, though, that the small area didn't really diminish the quality of the race or my enjoyment of it. Sure, on the second loop the area had quite a bit of familiarity, but for me the terrain also seemed to get thicker and thicker as I got more tired.

You may not realize this, but Emily was only 1.5 meters from the camera.
Personally, the race was not a strong one for me, I was particularly discombobulated, after the model map I felt uncertain about the runnability of the green and we were immediately hit with a long leg that, due to my uncertainty, I decided to take the scenic route around, which was slow, ineffective, slow, and slow. I recall Georgiou once leveling a bit of criticism at the course planning for the 2016 WOC long, saying that putting a super long leg right at the start prevented competitors from having the ability for understand the different terrain considerations when choose a route choice, and I suppose I can understand the logic in that. Perhaps if I'd had one more control before a long leg I would have had a better understanding of what I would be faced with if I decided to go through the green.

Regardless of my result, it was still a really enjoyable day, with nice weather, a fun course, and a fantastic post-race dip in the outdoor pool. Race organizers: have you ever considered having the finish at the local pool rather than in the middle of a field somewhere? Just a thought.

The Sprint Relay - by Damian Konotopetz
Faster, run faster, the course design clearly showed,
Especially to number 1, there was really only one road,
there was some tricky bits in the zoo,
apparently a Kiwi even got hit by poo,
Those Danes are so fast... time to up my training load!

The final race of the World Games - the sprint relay. The start was held on the steps of the Hula Stulecia, which is an impressive round building built in the early 20th century. Again, its clear the organizers were going for location location location. Aside from the first leg being relatively long and uninteresting (and the subsequent identical return leg), the course was generally interesting, running around the Wroclaw zoo. The zoo has oddly shaped buildings, non-straight sidewalks, and thanks to the intensely heavy rain, very slippery pavement!
You may not be able to spot the thousands of rain drops.
The zoo appeared to be essentially closed, so it was a somewhat lonely run through the zoo, save for several animals that seemed very interested in what was going on. I most certainly saw some groups of animals turning their head in wonderment, and a few run along side from inside their enclosures. They were arguably more curious than the tourists in the Wroclaw square....

In general I think most of Team Canada was suffering from either fatigue or injuries at this point, so I think we all felt we could perform much better. But, as I said before, we all agreed that racing and giving it our all at an event like this, is better than not racing at all. We are all also in general agreement that relays are fun. Sprint, forest, or otherwise. More relays in Canada can only be a good thing!

Post sprint-relay obligatory team photo. I'm sorry to say, we would not win the volleyball tournament.

The Rest of the World Games - by Marg Ellis
There was a young man with red hair
Who said “lacrosse is just over there”
On the tram we did go, to the fist ball field
To watch Canada-Oz entertainingly yield
A win for our ladies fair and square. 

Unfortunately we didn't get too much time to see other sports, save for after Thursday's race, where we took a tram over to Lacrosse, to watch Canada defeat Australia. At our accommodation and eating place, we unfortunately didn't see any other Canadian teams, so this was our brief moment to see and cheer for our countrymen in a different sport. As we were in the middle of the week, we also did not get to attend either the opening or closing ceremonies, which would have been a nice highlight!

But we did get to meet the World Games Mascots

Nevertheless, the World Games experience was quite an enjoyable one, and seemed to produce fun courses despite perhaps compromising for logistics of multi-sports events like this one. I for one, would be looking forward to what Birmingham, Alabama, has in store in four years time. I will be especially intrigued to see the reaction from Americans to wildly unusual sports that are highly Euro-centric. What will the response be for Fistball? Korfball? Speedway? ..... orienteering??

A big thanks to Marg for being team leader and be willing to sit around in school gymnasiums for hours on end doing nothing! Being a team leader can be a dull and tedious role and we always appreciate someone willing to do it!

Also, a big shout out to Tori for re-arranging her schedule and coming all the way to Poland on extremely short notice to fill out the team!