PELHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — It started out as a training exercise for the Swedish military in 1886. But ever since then, the sport of orienteering has grown into a sport practiced worldwide.
So much so that the World Games has included orienteering in its catalog of events for the past five competitions and will also be returning it to the 2022 games in Birmingham.
But despite its longevity, its absence in the mainstream has made it one of the lesser-known events in the games. So, what is orienteering?
In an effort to compress the vast information needed to compete professionally, here’re the basics you need to know:
The sport consists of athletes running through a course, either in the woods or in more urban landscapes, and trying to find anywhere from 5 to 12 checkpoints in order. Oh, and you only have a map, compass and an item known as a finger stick that will allow you to mark each checkpoint to ensure you’re performing the sport legally.
The goal is for competitors to not only show off their athletic ability, but their critical thinking as well. Each contestant must find the fastest and most efficient way to “punch” their finger sticks at every marker.
The terrains switch depending on the variation of the sport you compete in. In the 2022 games, there are three separate distinctions, including sprint, middle distance and relay. The sprint race will be hosted at Birmingham-Southern College, the relay will take over Railroad park and the middle distance fixture will be held at Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham.
And while it may be a new sport to many in the Magic City, it has had a presence in central Alabama for several decades now.
Nineteen years ago, Anne Mathews discovered the wonderful world of orienteering. And ever since then, she has loved every moment.
“There’s nothing, to me, better than you’re going along and you’re going around and you say, ‘Ok, I’m gonna go right around this spurt and there’s a little reentry and it’s gonna be right in the middle of that reentry.’ And you go right around the spurt and there it is and it’s like cha-ching. I found it,” Mathews said.
What grew from the Vulcan Hiking Club in the late 1970s has blossomed into the Vulcan Orienteering Club that takes over Oak Mountain every fall. On a typical day, you’ll hear the chirping from those markers as people of all ages give the 130-year-old sport a try for themselves.
Mathews, now the vice president of VOC, along with treasurer James Pilman and president Joey Ciza look to bring the “Thinking Sport” into the mainstream and know the World Games can do just that.
“I thought, ‘this is great, we’re going to get some more people to come orienteer with us,” she said. “We’ll gain a lot of new competitors and new people and maybe keep the club going in the future when we get too old to do all of this.”
Orienteering at the World Games will begin with at 9 a.m. July 15 with the sprint finals at Birmingham-Southern College. The middle distance finals will run from 9 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at Oak Mountain State Park the following day. And the sprint finals will run on the final day of the games down at Railroad Park. The sport will be a free event for all to come out and watch in any of the locations.
VOC will also be posting updates on their events and how to participate in a variation of the actual course used in the World Games at Oak Mountain. You can contact the club, as well as register for events this fall, by clicking here.