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VESZPREM, HUNGARY — When a sport’s international governing body makes a major rule change, the global impact of that change may not be obvious at first glance. This is especially true when news that a new version of the “Competition Rules for IOF MTB Orienteering Events” (valid from 1-Jan-2013) was released to the MTBO community at large last month. The major revision that has grabbed the most attention (so far) is the change that effectively drops the qualification race requirement from the Long Distance event (i.e. known as the Long-Q) at next year’s World Mountain Bike Orienteering Championships (WMTBOC).

Time for a Change
This decision, presented to the International Orienteering Federation (IOF) Council by Edmond Szechenyi, Chair of the MTB Orienteering Commission (MTBOC), was based on the following MTBOC rationale:

“In order to limit the total duration of the Long Distance event at WMTBOCs the number of start slots has always been restricted to 60 for both women and men. These 60 competitors have until now been selected through a qualification competition held at the championships.”

“Experience with the qualification event has not been altogether positive for various reasons. The event is not popular with the athletes and with a maximum entry of 6 competitors from each country the starting field in the finals weighs heavily in [favor] of the more developed MTBO countries. Moreover, the [organizational] work required (maps, courses, arena) makes this event not cost effective.”

“At its meeting on 26th August 2012 the MTBOC decided to propose to Council the replacement of the qualification event by a selection procedure based on the previous World Championship results and on the World Ranking.”

When the new MTBO rules become official on January 1st, 2013, the new Long Distance event criteria covered in Section 6 – Participation of the rules will include Rule 6.8, which states:

“In the Long Distance competition there shall be a maximum of 61 start slots. The start slots shall be allocated to all entered Federations no later than 2 months before the beginning of the WMTBOC […].”

According Szechenyi, the detailed start slot allocation system is still being worked out between the various Federation members, and will not be finalized until January 2013. However, the draft version for consideration does point out that every country that attends the WMBTOC in 2013, will have one automatic start slot. It is in the remaining slots that Szechenyi states,

“[A]thletes will earn start slots for their team, and not for themselves, on the basis of both the previous World Championships results and the World Ranking.”

Szechenyi further clarified this to mean that each team will be empowered to decide which of their riders will fill their allotment of Long Distance slots up to a maximum of four per Federation. This way a team can earn additional start slots (up to the maximum of four) based on how they finished in the previous year’s WMTBOC Long Distance event, and can even be waived from the four slot maximum (for a total of five), if one of their riders is the Long Distance World Champion.

Lining Up the Slots
For the process to work fairly, the start slot allotments are filled in order of Federation actively participating in the Long Distance event, previous Long Distance event top 15 finishers, and the event’s solo World Champion slot. Once all the first round allotments have been made, the remaining slots (if any below the maximum of 60 remain) will be filled by those Federation’s athletes that are on the World Ranking list as it stands three months prior to the championships (excluding the top 15 already given start slots) up to the Federation’s four slot maximum. This means that those Federations who have athletes in the top rankings will receive more starting slots than others, making the allotment process continue until each of the top Federations – in order of their athlete’s world ranking – either cannot (or choose not to) fill its complete allotment of start slots up to a total of 61 participating athletes. If this process produces less than 60 filled starting positions, even after all allotment selections have been made, the allotment process will close with no further additions will be allowed.
 
Process in Practice
An example of this can be demonstrated using MTBO Team USA’s inaugural performance at the 2012 World MTBO Championships. The current IOF MTBO World Rankings show Susan Grandjean (USA) as the top North American Women MTBO athlete. Additionally, she was the only America to compete in the Long Distance MTBO final event in 2012, finishing in 56th place. However, the rules would require that her placement be juxtapose to the Top World Women MTBO athletes, which show Grandjean ranked in 104th place, with her 56th place finish in last year’s WMTBOC obviously not one of the 15 Long Distance finishing places. Based on the proposed changes to the competition rules, this would mean that Orienteering USA’s 2013 MTBO Team would be allotted only one Long Distance start slot, regardless if Grandjean is on the team or not. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say Grandjean does get the opportunity to race in Estonia in 2013. She could be selected to race the Long Distance event for a second time if the team decides that she is the best choice; but it will be the team that makes the final decision. If Grandjean was to crush the competition on her return to the WMTBOC and place as a top 15 finisher, then Team USA would be given two starting slots for the Long Distance event at Bialystok, Poland in 2014; one slot for the Federation and an additional slot for each Federation’s athlete in the top 15 of the event. Now with two slots going into 2014, a stellar performance that places at least one athlete in the top 15, and possibly another in the top 30, could potentially provide Orienteering USA with a third starting slot in 2015, and a repeat performance in 2016 to capture the coveted fourth starting slot.
  
Starting Out With One
What is understood about the MTBOC proposal is that Federations new to mountain bike orienteering – like the United States – will have to earn their slots in consecutive years of championship participation. And it will take at least three consecutive years of MTBO Championship success before Orienteering USA will ever have the opportunity at four starting slots in the Long Distance event. However, this also means that those at the top will equally have to maintain their elite status or else loose a slot to an up-and-coming Federation. Considering that Szechenyi also suggested that this selection process, if successful, could potentially be extended to the other WMTBOC racing formats, it may be some time before American MTBO athletes can reach the participation numbers that European MTBO athletes will certainly enjoy – at least for the short team – during next year’s upcoming World MTBO Championships in Estonia.