European Championships sports director: Our main task is to take orienteering out of the forest

In March 2020 Khanty-Mansiysk will become the venue of The European Ski Orienteering Championships and the World Cup. Sports director of the competitions Adik Bektimirov talked about the route choice, conditions for the spectators and answered the question why ski tracks for competitions held in March are being prepared in December.

— Adik, tell us, what kind of work is to be done now?

— At the moment we have prepared over 50 km of marked tracks in the forest. Using these marks, specialists will now roll the first track by snowmobile. This is necessary for the snow layer, so that the track will not fall through and maintain a high quality in the future. We will roll the track as wide as possible, 1-2 meters wider than it has to be, so that when the snow covers everything, you will be able to see this first track. We need to start in advance, because there have been times when the tracks start to fall down in spring. The machines are not heavy enough to press the snow layer like a snowcat.

— The track must be made specifically with snowmobiles?

— Firstly, the snowmobiles are used to avoid falling down through the snow. It is harder to use other machines, they don’t have such specifications for driving on the untouched snow. But a snowmobile passes through. Meaning it is more passable than regular machines with two skis.

— Athletes will choose between tracks of varying levels of preparation. How will the other parts be prepared?

— The maps will show the track quality, we have fast and slow tracks, this is clear for athletes. Depending on the track quality the speed of athlete varies. Most tracks will be rolled with snowmobiles, except standard tracks, which are rolled with a snowcat. But these track are only 1/10 of the total route distance. Snowmobiles will be involved in a greater extent because the forest tracks will play the main role.

— By what principle were the tracks selected?

— First of all, we relied on safety. Here we have a very difficult terrain, it is steep and with a big elevation differenсe. We looked at the possibility of skiing downhill for athletes. If we decide to do this on a steep slope, that would be quite extreme. Secondly, a difficulty was that this is an area of a nature park and it is not allowed to chop or saw anything, therefore we tried to go around. In places where we saw a wide open space we instantly planned the route and cleared it of fallen trees and branches. Then, naturally, during the work some things were removed and added.

— How spectacular are competitions held in the forest?

— There is such an aspect here. A sport must have intrigue to be spectacular. For instance, in biathlon it is the shooting range, where atheltes shoot, and if they miss, right away they are losing their chances for a victory. We have the same thing. The whole distance can be paved along wide tracks, but then entertainment will fade, because all athletes will go equally. For the spectators’ comfort the tracks are formed with the principle “get out of the woods”. Almost all the tracks will be wide, but inside these tracks there will be a net – the tracks we roll with snowmobiles. The athlete will go in this net, then enter a wide track and go into the net again. In spots like this cameras will be placed, so that we can see them, when they go into the forest.  In addition, each athlete will carry a GPS tracker, which will show the movement on the map on screen. That is a 100% athlete tracking, but without constant visual presence. The spectacular level of the race does not decrease, because they still enter the stadium. It will be a little specific, but there will be enough drama, that is for sure. Sometimes athelte runs a good race, but then exceeds the speed, the head stops thinking, and by a parts of a second takes the wrong turn – and that’s it, he is not the leader anymore. It is important not to miss this moment when planning the route.

— Where can spectators watch the races, other than on a screen?

— This whole event will take place at the stadium, start and finish will be placed before the stands, as usually in biathlon and cross-country skiing. Our main task, which I have been talking about for a long time, is to take our sport out of the forest. Many people, especially the older generation, are used to classical orienteering where you go into the forest for two hours and return. No one knows what happened there. To take the sport to another level, we need to go out of the woods. We will try to apply this principle.