Kiwi double world champ knows where he's going

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 23/02/2013

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You don't want to get lost on your way to meet New Zealand's champion orienteer.

But The Press whizzed by our Bromley rendezvous point, a café on the corner of Senior Place. Confronted with a cul-de-sac of industrial premises, we became a tad disoriented. Call it a Senior moment.

A quick call resulted in the right co-ordinates and Chris Forne kindly bounded outside to direct us to our destination.

Forne does not need any outside help on forays into our forests. The 36-year-old two-time world adventure racing and rogaining champion has been New Zealand's top orienteer for the thick end of 10 years.

He has an unerring ability to pore over a map and pick out the shortest route to the next control point - and the speed and stamina to leg it over hilly and heavily-wooded tricky terrain.

Forne has been orienteering, off and on, for 30 years, starting at the tender age of six. His parents were keen adherents and still do the occasional event.

Young Chris "did a variety of sports" and orienteering was only something he did "recreationally" until getting serious in his mid-20s after university.

Forne is an electrical and computer engineer with a doctorate in image processing or "stereo reconstructions - taking a number of camera views to reconstruct 3-D models". "It's a bit related to mapping, which I'm quite excited by."

He is a sub-contractor with Scott Technologies, working in their "robot vision lab" on a quality-control system for stove-top manufacturing.

The job allows him the flexibility to take off and pursue his orienteering and adventure racing passions - and he certainly has a giddying schedule.

Take next month for starters. Forne and his world champion Seagate team-mates will run, tramp, bike, paddle and climb for four or five days with scant sleep over classic terrains in southern New Zealand. A fortnight later, he will run in and help organise the national orienteering championships being hosted in Canterbury by his 300-member club, Plains and Peninsula Orienteers (PAPO) .

Forne is an ardent orienteering advocate. He first competed for New Zealand at the 2003 world championships in Switzerland. He was ranked 31st in the world at the end of 2010 and is top-ever Kiwi in all three distances - sprint , middle and long - at world championship level.

He was 17th equal in the long and 20th in the sprint in Hungary in 2009 and 21st in the middle at Trondheim, Norway, in 2010.

Orienteering courses are "embargoed" before the race but Forne had some knowledge of Trondheim terrain. He and his girlfriend lived there for three years on his orienteering OE. "We just loved the big variety in seasons. Close to four months a year, we could go out from our front door and go cross-country skiing. And in the summer there's lots of orienteering."

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What makes a top orienteer? "If you're wanting to be one of the top runners in the world, or even nationally, you have to be a pretty top off-road runner as well as a really good map reader," Forne says." If either of those is not so strong, you won't get a good result.

"Some people will always be stronger runners and tend to be a bit weaker on the navigation and vice versa. Often the sprint races will tend to favour the really fast runners, especially for 5k, flat speed races, whereas the foresty ones, especially if you get a quite technical detail or tricky area, the better navigators and those stronger at running in the terrain, will be at an advantage."

Traditionally, he was stronger at "the running". "But I guess having done it for quite a large number of years reasonably intensively, the navigation side has been improving more than the running. Now, I think it's fairly balanced . . . "

A good orienteer can "always pick up a map and orienteer somewhere else". "But to get to the top level, it's important to know where the really nice places are to run and how the map's going to relate to the terrain.

"With any map, it's always just a representation . . . Until you can get familiar with that area, you won't get a really clear picture of what you see on the map, especially when it comes to vegetation."

Europe is orienteering's epicentre with the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland and France the powerhouse nations.

Orienteering is a niche sport in New Zealand but hosted a World Cup series in the lower North Island last month where Wellington's Lizzie Ingham was third in the women's sprint race around Government House.

Aucklander Matt Ogden won the world junior championships last year - but still has not managed many victories over Forne, who was top Kiwi male in two of the three World Cup races, despite mistakes on a coastal dune course.

At 36, Forne hopes to have "another three to four years" competing at national and international level but said he will "probably always" be an orienteer.

He is also a two-time world rogaining champion, returning from Norway to win his second title on home soil near Cheviot in 2010 with adventure racer Marcel Hagener after a 24-hour race over 135km of terrain.

Forne's fitness and mapping savvy made him a natural for adventure racing where navigational nous is a necessity. He was enticed to the sport by fellow Canterbury orienteer Aaron Prince, a former Coast to Coast two-day race champion.

Forne hooked up with three Americans in the Nike team which won the 2007 world adventure racing championships in Scotland in 2007 and finished second in the next three events.

But in 2011 he switched to an all-Kiwi team, joining three Nelson-based athletes - Nathan Fa'avae, Sophie Hart (Coast to Coast women's champion) and Trevor Voyce in Seagate, New Zealand.

They had "a few disasters" at the 2011 world championships in Australia where Forne broke the rear derailleur on his bike and "lost a few hours trying to convert it into a single-speed and [wasn't] really able to ride it that well. And also we got a four-hour penalty for leaving the tracking device on the lifejacket after the paddling section. A lot of people thought that was an inappropriately large penalty for simply forgetting something that wasn't really affecting your speed. But that's the way of the race.

"We were a bit frustrated after Australia so it was definitely satisfying to reclaim the world championship title last year in France."

They plan to defend it in Costa Rica in December after the Godzone race in New Zealand next month, a couple of races in China and possibly the Eco Motion event in Brazil.

Forne says he will sit out the first race in China in April. He's got "quite a few big projects on at work" and will have just had the orienteering nationals.

But he loves the adventure racing and says his navigator's role ensures he stays alert and prevents him getting too sleepy.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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