Orienteering is a sport in which participants navigate with the aid of a map and compass around a prescribed course, checking in at specified and clearly marked control points. It is done on foot, either by walking, jogging or running - top elite competitors are often international-level track and cross country runners. While orienteering is primarily an individual sport, there are also categories for groups of 2-4. The competitor who completes the course in the fastest time is the winner.
Orienteering is a "sport for all" from the recreational to the elite level, and participants, who range in age from 10 years to over 70, can play as competitively or non-competitively as they wish. A variety of courses ranging from beginner to advanced are available at every event. Courses are graded by degree of difficulty and skill required. Events are normally held in national, provincial and municipal parks and conservation areas. Local clubs and associations prepare special large-scale multicoloured topographical maps for easy readability.
Orienteering combines athletic ability and mental exercise, with participants continually having to choose routes between control points. This combination of mental and physical attributes has resulted in orienteering being called "the thinking person's sport." Newspaper records show orienteering activities took place in Norway and Sweden in the 1890s, but it is generally accepted that orienteering as an organized sport began in Sweden in 1919, with Major Ernst Killander the acknowledged founder.
Orienteering was essentially a Scandinavian sport until after WWII, when it spread throughout Europe. First introduced in Canada in 1948, little significant development took place before the mid-1960s. The Canadian Orienteering Federation (COF) was founded in 1967, with the first Canadian championship held in 1968. In 1969 the COF was accepted as a member of the International Orienteering Federation (IOF). There were 56 member nations in the IOF as of January 2000.
The first World Orienteering Championships were held in Finland in 1966, and a Canadian team competed for the first time in 1972. World championships are held every 2 years with teams of 5 men and 5 women representing each country. Norwegian and Swedish athletes have won most world championship individual and relay titles, but during the 1990s athletes from Finland, Denmark, Switzerland and Great Britain mounted a strong challenge to this domination. The top 5 ranked nations at the 1999 world championships were Norway, Finland, Sweden, Britain and Switzerland.
The best Canadian performances in the world championships are as follows: Men: Ted de St. Croix, of Ottawa, placing 10th (1985) and 20th (1983). (St. Croix won 14 Canadian Elite Men's Championships - 11 consecutive years from 1976 to 1986 plus 1988, 1989 and 1992) Women: Denise DeMonte, of Hamilton, placing 18th (1985); Pam James of Halifax, placing: 20th (1999).
The Swedish and Finnish federations organize annual 5-day competitions that attract over 20 000 competitors. The Swedish event, the "O'Ringen," with over 25 000 competitors for each of the 5 days, is considered the largest single participant sport event in the world.