Orienteering, the sport of compass and map started in Scandanavia is popular around the world and is now gaining adherents in the United States.
The sport of orienteering began as a military training exercise in the Scandinavian forests in the last decades of the 19th century. The term "orienteering" comes from the military practice of orientation, finding ones way through unfamiliar ground with a "chart and compass."
The Tjalve Sports Club, based outside Oslo, Norway, staged the first public orienteering meet on October 31, 1897. Thereafter orienteering clubs began appearing sporadically across Norway and Sweden.
Major Ernst Killander is recognized as the "Father of Orienteering." As President of the Stockholm (Sweden) Amateur Athletic Association in 1918, Killander noticed a declining interest in track and field among Sweden's youth. To stimulate interest in running outside a track environment he integrated the orienteering principles of map and compass with a cross-country competition. In blending the mental agility and navigational skills addition to the strength, stamina and running ability of cross-country, Killander created modern orienteering.
Scandinavians became skilled orienteers, so much so that Adolph Hitler banned the sport during German occupation of Norway in World War II because he feared their extensive knowledge of Norway's wilderness terrain would be assisting the resistant movements. After the war, orienteering spread to other European countries and the International Orienteering Federation was formed in 1961. The next year the first European Championships were held in Norway.
World championships, held every two years, began in 1966. In 1988, orienteering became an Olympic-affiliated sport and is awaiting full entry into the slate of sports at the Olympic Games. Today the International Orienteering Federation sports 41 full members and 8 associate members from around the world.
Harald Wibye, a Norwegian, is credited with beginning public orienteering in the Untied States by staging the first event on November 5, 1967 at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Orienteering gained its first foothold in America through the military, especially the Marines, who won the first six national men's orienteering titles beginning in 1971, and cadets at the United States Military Academy.
Wibye only stayed in North America two years but helped establish orienteering clubs in several states and founded the first Canadian orienteering club in Montreal. Today there are 70 orienteering clubs around the United States with some 8,000 members but Wibye's original Delaware Valley Orienteering Club, with 700 members, is easily the largest.
An orienteering course usually consists of between five and twenty checkpoints which the orienteer must locate in order with only a topographical map and compass for guidance. In competitive orienteering, the finisher who successfully finds all the checkpoints in the least elapsed time is the winner. The course can cover anywhere from a mile to up to ten miles.
The elite of the sport, with compass strapped to a thumb, can race through dense undergrowth, across streams, around cliffs at a pace of about six minutes per mile while marking off all their control points. But orienteering is hardly a sport reserved for the elite. Families are encouraged to participate and if one wants to walk a course while studying the map and compass, so be it. And orienteering is no longer just for runners; ski orienteering is now gaining adherents around the world.
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