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BEN SHEMEN FOREST, ISRAEL — The 2009 World Mountain Bike Orienteering Championships (MTBO WOC) was held last week in (and around) Ben Shemen Forest, Israel. To promote this annual event, event organizers produced an Event Website, a YouTube Channel, and hinted towards the ability to track racers live via the Web (although we never found the link to this feature). This is certainly a great leap forward for MTBO marketing and advertising. Sadly, there was no MTBO Worlds “Facebook” page. But these things take time and we will certainly not fault the event organizers for not fully capitalizing on the vast amount of social networking options this year.

Overall, the website was not really on par with a World Championship level event. However, what DID stand out was the production value of each of the events dozen or so 5- to 10-minute videos. Each camera shot was very professional — almost ESPN / NBC Universal Sports quality — with seamless editing, excellent camera panning, and precise action angles we’ve come to expect in professional sports video productions. It would be great to see a complete 30-minute made-for-TV version of the whole event, especially considering how much quality video is on hand to produce it. But the simple interviews (in English too!), action shots, and multiple venues, made each video stand out. Bravo to the event film crew!

Moreover, what really caught our eye while we were enjoying all the great video, was the 20-second snippet about the events GPS tagged racers! Who knew MTBO Worlds would be so sophisticated this year! From what we’ve been able to gather via the Internet (and other sources), the Israel Sport Orienteering Association (ISOA) purchased the technology specifically for the MTBO Worlds Championship events to (1) add a safety factor to the event, and (2) provide a spectator display (big screen monitor) for those waiting back at the finish line. Additionally, we were told they used wireless “radio signal” e-punch checkpoints this year — a system that lets the race timers know when and where a racer punched in to a checkpoint in real time. Very exciting to see all of this new technology in action!

We would certainly like to know more about the GPS tracking hardware and software the ISOA had on hand for this event. We know the concept is certainly not new: Primal Quest adventure racing requires a team to carry a SPOT unit at all times (as of last year in Montana); Desert rally and motocross racers have been using tracking devices on their vehicles for years; and even the US Military uses GPS tracking to point-point friendlies in the field. But to use it for mountain biking events is certainly a new use of the technology – and we would like to know more about it! Chances are its still a bit pricey for most small orienteering organizations to get their hands on. But it is exciting to see a new piece of wireless technology make it a sport that has been rather low-tech for many years.

Meanwhile, enjoy the following links to the 2009 MTBO Worlds event:
Official 2009 MTBO Worlds Website
Official 2009 MTBO Worlds YouTube Channel