Q & A with Orienteering Sports Coordinator Kay Haarsma

We sit down with Orienteering Sports Coordinator Kay Haarsma who fills us in on the new sport and lets us know how the new competition will be run.

This is orienteering’s first inclusion in the Alice Springs Masters Games – how has this come about?

Orienteering has been conducting foot orienteering school clinics and events in Alice for 4 years or so and some public events as well. In 2014 the Australian Mountain Bike Orienteering championships were held here in Alice Springs with competitors from NZ attending too. The terrain is great for both forms of the sport, so we thought it would be ideal to offer orienteering at the Games.

What exactly is orienteering?

Orienteering is a sport, often called “cunning running,” which combines outdoor adventure with map reading and navigational skills. It involves navigating though the bush, parks or streets with the aid of a specially produced map and sometimes a compass. The aim is to locate checkpoints (controls) on various natural and man-made features along the way, such as a boulder, track junction, knoll, seat or post. Controls are represented by distinctive orange and white flags.

The skill in orienteering is in choosing the best route between controls — while beginners’ courses may not offer choice, as you progress you will learn to decide between options — perhaps over a hill or a longer route which goes round it. It is this stimulating mental challenge as well as the physical activity that makes orienteering so popular. Each event may have a number of courses of differing lengths and levels of difficulty occurring at the same time.

You can start with an orienteering course that is a pleasant stroll, either alone or in a group, along bush tracks, and then progress when you wish to the more demanding courses as your navigating skills and fitness improve. Orienteering is a sport for everyone, no matter their age or experience. Orienteering is famous for events in which elite orienteers and recreational orienteers, men and women of all ages can enjoy the sport together. You can walk, jog or run, depending on your level of fitness and how competitive you wish to be.

Tell us about the Top End Orienteering club which will be running the events.

It’s a Darwin based club with about 120 members that is incredibly active. They have Darwin based events on Sunday mornings throughout the year, plus a couple of months with a weekly series – November in Darwin and August in Katherine. Bush events are scheduled for the dry season mainly, with urban events held in the hotter part of the year instead. They have some very experienced orienteers including Susanne Casanova who has competed at the elite World Championships and Lachlan Hallett who represented Australia at the U21 Worlds.

How will orienteering cater for newcomers to the sport?

The two longer events (on foot and mountain bike) held at the Telegraph Station have a score format where competitors get a certain time to visit as many controls as possible.

In this way no-one fails as there is no set course. Many controls will be on easy features and just a few on harder ones.

The “sprint” event, which is only 15-20 minutes in length, will be a typical course where you must visit controls in order. However this will be in the Sadadeen area, amongst the OLSH College and Charles Darwin University buildings and adjacent open land, so this will be relatively easy navigation. Experienced orienteers will be on hand to give instruction beforehand.

There are some excellent videos on orienteering online.

Additionally there will be some public events held in the coming months in Alice Springs.

What is your background in orienteering?

I was introduced to orienteering by a Physical Education colleague when I was 20 years old. I came from an athletics background and immediately loved the variety in orienteering as every course is different. Since then I have represented Australia at World Championships in both foot & mountain biking orienteering both as a competitor and coach and raced in about 20 countries.

Does orienteering cater for older competitors well?

Yes, our sport is well known as “a sport for life.” In our normal competitions we have several people over 80 years old doing mountain bike orienteering and people over 90 years old competing in foot orienteering.

Why should newcomers compete in the ASMG orienteering competition?

It’s a fun competition where you get to see some great scenery while you compete.

It’s never too late to learn a new activity!

To register for Orienteering head to alicespringsmastersgames.com.au