Thursday, March 12, 2009

Portugal Orienteering Meeting 2009

Portugal ‘O’ Meeting 2009
Sharon Lucey

The annual Portugal O Meet took place on the 21st-25th February 2009 in the Alentejo region, 200km east of Lisbon. The four-day competition, held on Carnival weekend, included 2 short races, 2 classic races, an urban night race and an orienteering show.
A group of ten senior orienteers from all over Ireland headed to the event, through the orienteering holiday provider, Sun-O. The group consisted of Darren Burke CorkO, Hugh Cashell CNOC, Ailbhe Creedon CorkO, Donncha Cuttriss BOC, Neil Dobbs IFK, Colm Hill CNOC, Susan Lambe LVO, Sharon Lucey BOC, Niamh O’Boyle CNOC and Kieran Rocks LVO. Six of the group took part in the training camp before and after the competition, while the remaining four travelled for a long weekend. Based in Brotas, we were centrally located for the events on all days.
The model event was held on Friday in Pavia (Azenhas da Seda) and though the map looked slightly daunting at first, those who braved it were rewarded with fast paced terrain, intricate contour detail and high visibility. It proved to be a great start to the week, with everyone being able to get a feel for the terrain and an idea of what to expect for the coming few days races. After a long days travel and early start, the other group of weary orienteers joined the group Friday night and excitement began to bubble over in anticipation of the great orienteering to come.
Saturday began with a Middle Distance race in the National Forest of Cabeção. As start times were not until 12pm, we got our first taste of running in the mid-day Portuguese sun. Courses were short, fast and incredibly enjoyable. The best results from the day were Niamh O’Boyle 22nd W21E, Colm Hill 69th M21E and Ailbhe Creedon 8th W21L.
The late starts on this day were due to the night event being held in the streets of Cabeção later that night. After freezing cold showers and a trip to the Fluviario in Mora to check out the local marine life it was back into our running gear once more. Around 700 competitors took part in the night-O, much to the amusement of the locals who took to the streets to support and enjoy the spectacle before them. As there were no allotted start times, all competitors had to queue in the main square of the town and starts were 15-20 seconds apart. This made for a very interesting and fast paced race. The town was made up of numerous short lanes and a few grassland areas without lighting. Navigating the cobbled streets and dodging traffic and other runners proved the challenge of the night with a number of ‘hit and runs’ between competitors. The best results on the night were Niamh, 2nd Women’s Senior and Colm, 4th Men’s Senior.
For the elites, Day 2 was the main race being a world-ranking event. Almost 1,600 competitors took part in Sunday’s competition in Brotas - Torre das Águias. Despite our ingenious plan of taking a “short cut” to this morning’s event, three of us managed to miss our start times. The debate is on going as to whose fault this was! As the event was not a punching start, the clocks began ticking as soon as our start times came around. Despite a gallant effort sprinting the 2km warm up route to the start, Kieran and myself both managed to miss our starts by 8 or 9 minutes. Breathless and unfocused we began our trek into the Portuguese wilderness. Luckily, I had a solid run, after a slow start, I was consistently hitting controls steadily and kept concentration throughout the course.
Map reading and accurate compass bearings were key to success. It was a fast paced course, with a lot of brown features. The terrain was rolling cork oak plantations mostly very fast but with occasional marshy areas and barbed wire fences to slow you down. Accuracy was key, as a number of controls were only visible from the control site. Unfortunately, for Kieran and Neil the other two late starters, the push to the start defeated them and both DNFed. Not surprising, given that the men’s elite course was over 16km.
The Swiss team, in Portugal for a training camp, dominated the elite categories. The W21E was 12.5km. The top results on the day went to:
1 Simone Niggli-Luder Sui 1:20:4
2 Signes Soes Denmark 1:22:04
3 Vroni Konig-Salmi Finland 1:22:08
25 Niamh O’Boyle 1:49:37
The M21E was dominated by the Swiss team, taking the top 3 places, as well as domination by past JWOC medalists: Hubmann and Merz have both taken individual gold while Tervo has two short race silvers.
1 Matthias Merz Sui 1:23:28
2 Marc Lauenstein Sui 1:28:50
3 Baptiste Rollier Sui 1:29:42
82 Colm Hill 2:09:43
A banquet dinner was held in Mora that night, following the prize giving ceremonies for the previous races.
Monday was our last day’s orienteering as we were heading back to reality the next day, while the other six were remaining for the fourth day of competition and another training day. The Middle Distance was held in Pavia – São Miguel/Remendo. Winning times were even faster than expected, showing just how fast paced the environment was. There were some very tricky stone features and very high boulders scattered around the area making it very technical but fast.
A fantastic spectator control and subsequent loop on the top ten courses provided great viewing for those with early finishes and a chance to monitor the techniques of the top elites. Of particular interest was the Swiss elite team who were told by their coach that compasses were forbidden on this day. All eyes were on the Swiss team to check that they all stuck to this rule. The best Irish results on the day were Niamh, W21E 21st and Colm M21E 75th and Ailbhe, 10th W21A.
This led us to the most interesting event of the entire weekend, the OriShow. This took place in the football pitch of the town we had invaded during the night-O. This is one of the best ways to demonstrate the sport to outsiders and beginners. The concept is based on short courses of up to 500m in length which are run on maps at 1:500 scale or even larger. The whole idea is that the courses are run on such small areas that spectators, as well as speakers, can follow the action all the time, from start to finish, watching the runners making mistakes, breaking away from one another and running into dead ends.
Disqualification was common among competitors in this event, as the fast paced nature of the race meant that keeping a keen eye on the map and codes was essential in order to achieve a clean run. There were four heats in the men’s and women’s race, each with 20 competitors. All competitors in each heat had the same first control and then broke into smaller courses. There was a mass start for each heat. The features on the map included; barriers, tapes, bales of hay, pot plants, chairs and cars, yes there were 3 cars on the map. Barriers and tapes could not be crossed, and were marked as uncrossable fences on the map.
The men’s semi final was extra exciting, with Colm taking too long checking his code for the last control and narrowly missed on a spot in the final to Darren because of this error. There were some great Irish results in this race, proving that we can stand our ground in high-pressure situations. Niamh took top spot in the women’s race with Darren pulling out a consistent race in the final to take 3rd spot. All podium finishers received cash prizes, a much-deserved reward after completing three intense ori-show races in a row.
Overall the weekend’s competition proved a great experience for all competitors and saw some fantastic results from the team and two podium finishes. There were around 1,500 competitors each day, proving that the event was appealing to people of all ages and abilities. The majority of competitors were in the 40+ age group according to officials. The inclusion of a WRE really added to the atmosphere on Day 2. The event was highly organised, with good quality maps and a variety of very technical and fast-paced terrain thrown in. We travelled with a company called who were incredibly helpful and they specialise in orienteering holidays in Spain and Portugal. A special thank you to Niamh for getting the ball rolling on organising a group to go. Here’s to POM 2010!
Results from all of the four days events can be found at and a full selection of photographs from all alls can be found at