Organisers are all out to get Kiwis up to speed

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 21/12/2012
Lizzie Ingham
DIEGO OPATOWSKI/Fairfax NZ
LIZZIE INGHAM: "It's very easy to look at it and say we're up against it, compared to the Europeans...but you have to make the most of what you've got."

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Short of blanket prime time television coverage, orienteering is never going to get itself on the New Zealand sporting map.

Finns, Swedes and Norwegians might be mad for it, but most Kiwis couldn't find an orienteering event, even if you gave them extensive directions.

Which is why the organisers of the New Zealand leg of the World Cup series, have taken the guess work out of proceedings.

They desperately want people to watch the series' sprint qualifier, on January 7, and sprint final the day after and have designed things accordingly.

The qualifier course will incorporate Parliament, while the final will cut through Government House.

New Zealand last hosted a World Cup event in 1994 and one of this country's brightest sprint-distance hopes, Lizzie Ingham, doubts there'll be another one in her competitive lifetime.

"They're going to be the most important races of our careers, pretty much," Ingham said.

Ingham's ninth in the sprint event at this year's world championships, in Switzerland, was New Zealand's best result at senior level.

Racing at home should make no discernible difference, given the map for every course is unique.

But, for once at least, Ingham and the rest of the New Zealand team aren't having to self-fund their way to Europe, where the bulk of world-class events are held.

The 24-year-old Samuel Marden Collegiate old girl is based in Canberra these days, where she's doing a doctorate in geophysics.

But the opportunity to train at home was too good to ignore and her PhD supervisor happily let Ingham study back in Wellington, ahead of the World Cup.

She'd like the New Zealand team to succeed at this event, but her realistic goal is that by taking the races to the people, a wee bit of recognition might fall orienteering's way.

"It's very easy to look at it and say we're up against it, compared to the Europeans and the facilities and funding they have. But you have to make the most of what you've got," Ingham said.

"We're definitely underdogs when we go to Europe, but when Matt [Auckland's Matt Ogden] won the junior world championships this year, I know he had a lot of support from other countries and that no-one begrudged him the victory.

"People are starting to take New Zealand and Australia far more seriously, rather than thinking we're just here to make up numbers."

Those sentiments were echoed by event director Graham Teahan. Teahan said Ogden's win, in Slovakia, was the first world title won by a New Zealander at any age level, while Tim Robertson's victory in the long distance event at the Australian championships provided similar encouragement.

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"I think there's a good chance we could get a [top-three] placing," said Teahan.

Athletes from 20 countries will compete in the World Cup races, while more than 900 age-group competitors will also be here for the Oceania Championships, which run concurrently.

Teahan, and his fellow organisers, are justifiably chuffed about the maps drawn up for the world events in Wellington.

"It's quite unique in the world, especially for the world of orienteering, to stage a race on the grounds of Parliament, even more so within Government House.

"We wanted to put a different slant on it and we've got a lot of international orienteering media coming across and they see this as quite different too," he said.

Contact Hamish Bidwell
Sports reporter
Email: hamish.bidwell@dompost.co.nz

- © Fairfax NZ News

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