The following is from John's Controllers Corner (Nov 2007).
The last few events have taken us through the full gambit of all our orienteering formats*: (* Orienteering is organised under four disciplines (Foot-O, Ski-O, Trail-O and MTBO). The formats are the race types that can be held within each of the disciplines.) Long Distance, Middle Distance, Sprint and Relay. It is interesting that only a few years ago many of us were very hesitant about adopting the Middle Distance and Sprint formats, and now we appear to be enjoying them to the full. (Even David Marshall was heard to express positive comments following the recent Sprint event!)
It is worth briefly visiting each of these formats to see what is special about each one. The following points have been summarised from the information provided in Appendix 8 of the Competition Rules for Orienteering Australia.
Long Distance. This is the classic format with which we are all familiar. The characteristics of long distance courses is that they should have a mix of technical difficulties with an emphasis on route choice. In addition, they should be a test of speed and physical endurance (appropriate to the age class). The maps used are generally 1:15,000 and 1:10,000, with the latter being used more for older age classes and when the terrain detail warrants the larger scale. Recommended winning times vary across the age classes.
Relay. The relay is the main team format in orienteering, characterised by a mass start, with each runner tagging the next team member. Teams are usually of three, but can be any number. The requirements are fairly similar to that of the Long Distance format with a mix of technical difficulties and route choice (on a smaller scale because courses are shorter). The nature of this format means competitors are often running in close proximity to others, and controls are often placed fairly close together requiring concentration. Running speed plays an important part in this format. Map scale is usually 1:10,000. Recommended winning times vary across the age classes.
Middle Distance. The emphasis in this format is on technical difficulty (and is best suited to technically difficult terrain). For this format, the course planner looks to incorporate technical complexity, quite a lot of controls and with changes of direction all requiring fast accurate orienteering. Concentration is essential throughout. The map scale is usually 1:10,000. Winning times should be around 30 – 35 minutes.
Sprint. This format emerged as part of the efforts of the IOF to make orienteering more visible to the public and more appealing to the media, and generally takes place in very runnable parks, streets or forest. Obviously the emphasis is on high speed but with technical and difficult route choices and a large number of controls on courses, requiring a high degree of concentration by the runners. Map scales can be 1:5,000 or 1:4,000. Maps use slightly different (additional) symbols designed mainly to indicate passage ways through complex buildings etc. Winning time for elites is meant to be 12 – 15 minutes. It is generally accepted that when Sprint format is open to all age classes, longer winning times (eg. 20 minutes) are used in course planning.
As I said above, we have recently experienced the full menu of these events as part of our State League (and Championship) program. I think you will agree that they were all excellent events!
The last event was the relays held at Five Mile Beach. The area here generally lacked features, but this was overcome by excellent course setting incorporating butterfly loops. The Course Planner (Lee Andrewartha) did stretch the rules a bit with control placement and control descriptions. Technically a control should only be placed on a clearly mapped feature. Lee in fact used control sites in the rolling contours of the pine forest that were simply high points or depressions - even though the map did not specifically show them as specific features. However, event Controller (Wendy Andrewartha) provided clear instructions and examples to explain this, and the actual control placements when these ‘features’ were used were highly visible. The basic principal of fairness to all competitors was kept to – helped of course by the nature of a relay where all team members visit all controls on their courses.
The fact that Lee and Wendy managed to bend the rules but maintained fairness should not be seen as a green light to plonk controls anywhere. Controls must be placed on mapped features. If on any occasion any rules are deliberately bent or broken for a specific event, then all competitors must be fully informed. Lee and Wendy did this well.