At the 2011 Orienteering USA (O-USA) Annual Convention in Rochester, New York, Peter Goodwin, O-USA Vice-President for Competition presented a session that asked the question: Does the USA Bid to Host WOC in 2018? From the conventions own bulletin, the opportunity to host the World Orienteering Championships (WOC) in 2018 was presented to Orienteering USA by Denmark, with pros and cons discussed by the convention attendees. However, this begs another question (and it wouldn’t be MTBO America if we didn’t ask it): Could Orienteering USA also obtain the opportunity to host the World Mountain Bike Orienteering Championship (WMOC) alongside the WOC in 2018? What would America need to do to bring the WMOC to our country? Mmmmm… now that is a good question!
The MTBO America take on how to bring the World Mountain Bike Orienteering Championship to the USA in 2018 include a three (3) phase plan: (1) establish an MTBO sanctioning committee that can officiate ranked events; (2) promote local and regional events by establishing a national circuit; and (3) create a National MTBO Championship.
The first thing Orienteering USA would need to do is establish MTBO Sanctioning Committee standards so that local clubs and promoters would know the proper way to design, develop, and produce Mountain Bike Orienteering races. Orienteering clubs could still hold their own bike-related orienteering events as they saw fit. However, if they wanted to get their MTBO athletes invited to a nationally ranked event, they would have to follow the governance set down by O-USA MTBO Competition Committee and would have to meet the highest quality standards in event and course organization. The intent would be to have MTBO sanctioned events provide the ranking points needed by competitors for participation in championship events. And just like in Mountain Bike racing, having a ranking system tends to draw a larger, more competitive crowds than a local event.
The next thing Orienteering USA would need is more “real” MTBO events held in the United States. Urban adventure hunts, model events, and small time “bike-o’s” (a term we hope to remove from the orienteering lexicon by 2018) do not advance the cause for nationally coordinated and ranked MTBO competition. Additionally, MTBO’s closet America equivalent, Adventure Racing, often becomes Foot Orienteering with a mountain bike. Nothing distracts more from the core disciplines of MTB Orienteering then having to drop your bike off at the side of the trail so you can search for a control located some 300-yards up a hill, through dense brush, all the while wearing your bike cleats. Challenging? Yes. Is it fun? Depends. Is it MTBO? No.
Consider what an American MTB athlete has to do to climb the MTB World Ranking ladder. There are local races, regional races, and even national level races to choose from. Additionally, MTB racers can compete for a US Olympic Team trail or just ride the USA Cycling professional circuit. Even most major American Universities have mountain biking teams for those just starting out. However, if an American wanted to become an MTBO athlete and consider the climb up the MTBO World Rankings ladder, their first stop would have to be either Australia, New Zealand, or England (or maybe even start out in a non-English speaking MTBO country for added complexity) just to learn the basics to expert-level MTBO racing. They could try their hand as some of the MTBO-ish events, but it would not prepare them for the brutal beating they would receive on the European MTBO courses when the competed in their first IOF MTBO event.
The solution is simple: encourage orienteering clubs to host Mountain Bike Orienteering events by setting the example at the national level. Just like the New York Yankees encouraged the development of Baseball athletes through the creation of the Farm League system, Orienteering USA could foster the creation of a localized MTBO network by creating a National race circuit. Local clubs and MTB race promoters could see the advantage in developing local events if it could result in expert-level participants going to “the show” if there was a “show” to go to in the United States.
This could also lead to something few orienteering clubs do these days: encourage collegiate participation. The popularity of mountain biking among American universities has steadily increased over the past 10-years, especially with the inclusion of Mountain Biking for the first time in the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia in 1996. More and more mountain biking athletes are looking for better ways to train for national, international, and Olympic events to include the excellent and unique benefits MTBO provides. Elite European mountain biking athletes have used MTBO as a training tool for straight MTB races considering the mental challenge, sprinting varying distances between controls, and start/stop/start/stop muscle confusion that MTB Orienteering organically creates.
The final thing Orienteering USA would need to do is establish a National MTBO Championship. Even if this started out as a small regional event, the potential for an MTBO championship could be the shot-in-the-arm the sport of Mountain Bike Orienteering needs to make a foothold in the United States. If local clubs and promoters had the main event their participants could strive for, and the governance and guidance in place to base their events on, an MTBO championship event could be the ultimate tool for not only capturing the attention of the American orienteering community (not to mention the American mountain biking community), it could also give the United States the credibility it needs to convince the IOF that it is ready to host an international MTBO event like the WMOC.
It would be wonderful to have the WOC hosted by the United States in 2018. However, it would be the completion of MTBO America’s primary mission if the US could host the WMOC right alongside it. Considering both the national and international media attention a mega event like a joint WOC/WMOC event could generate, it would not only establish a new American presence within the sport of MTBO, but it would truly make Orienteering USA a member of the World orienteering community.