Athletes Ready For World Orienteering Championships 2024

Robert Thorne
13th May 2024

The Sprint World Orienteering Championships 2024 (WOC) are coming to Edinburgh in Scotland this July and preparations are well underway.

I met with WOC organisers, and Team GB athletes Mairi Eades and Kirstin Maxwell in Edinburgh’s Festival Square ahead of the six-day event. As well as telling me what to expect on July 11th, they showed me the ropes of urban orienteering in a mad dash around the city’s West End.

 “If you’re in Scotland, Edinburgh’s the place to go for orienteering,” said Maxwell, who hails from the Scottish Borders. “The geography is just incredible. Arthur’s Seat and Castle Rock are iconic.” She credited her time at the University of Edinburgh with the university’s orienteering club (EUOC) as helping her to excel in the sport.

Eades, also from the Borders, helped me get the hang of running-while-map-reading. While I’d tried wild orienteering before, I quickly realised the unique challenges urban landscapes pose. Edinburgh’s patchwork planning comes with countless cul-de-sacs, closes, and wynds. Orange-and-white orienteering flags hide in hedgerows, round corners, and behind garden walls. Moreover, city-maps have more features than open landscapes, which can complicate (or guide) navigation.

World Orienteering Championships 2024

Nonetheless, Eades said she enjoyed street running as much as forests or open moors. The week before, she’d competed in Sprint Scotland 2024 in Glenrothes, Fife, where she placed second against athletes from Spain, New Zealand, and Australia, as well as the wider UK.

Both Maxwell and Eades spoke about the challenges of being amateur athletes. Despite representing Britain on the world stage, they balance their sporting careers with the day jobs that pay for them. Both thanked their families, friends, and local communities for the support they’ve received along the way.

The two athletes also reflected on the last WOC to be held in Scotland, in Inverness, 2015. Maxwell cited it as an inspiration for her entry to the sport, as she ran test routes just minutes before competing athletes. Eades, who was 14 at the time, recalls an exciting day, but was nonchalant when asked about her transition from WOC spectator to competitor.

World Orienteering Championships 2024

With this year’s champs in Edinburgh, organisers are keen to showcase urban orienteering as an accessible entry point for beginners. The WOC Tour is a range of non-competitive races open to amateurs from July 11th to July 16th: over 1000 people have signed up already. Ahead of July, WOC staff are running taster sessions in partnership with Edinburgh Southern Orienteering Club (ESOC), using Australian wayfinding app, MapRun.

Andy Mitchelmore is WOC 2024’s event director and an Edinburgh local. He’s worked on Great Run, the London Marathon, and the World Cycling Champs. He gave me an overview of the challenges and rewards of running this year’s competition.

“The nature of orienteering requires secrecy,” said Mitchelmore, referring to the race checkpoints which athletes cannot know prior to their race. “Edinburgh’s under embargo—any athletes spotted in the city before the champs are instantly disqualified. We’re going to need road closures, but we have to do it on such short notice to try and beat the teams. Orienteering is the only sport where organisers are competing with the athletes themselves.”

World Orienteering Championships 2024

While spectators won’t be ticketed, Mitchelmore estimated at least 3,000 dedicated orienteering fans will come to watch. He added that “racing through Edinburgh in July will bring many more casual spectators.” However, Mitchelmore said the WOC’s biggest audience will be in Scandinavia, where orienteering originates.

“We reckon an audience of 6.5mn on terrestrial services, with a primetime slot on Sweden’s equivalent of BBC One.”

Mitchelmore said he’s excited to finally see the project come to life. Orienteering is a heavily improvised sport (athletes choose their routes), meaning it only “exists” in the moment of the race: there’s no stadium, track, or equipment you can see beforehand.

“Within Scotland, Glasgow hoovers up everything,” said Mitchelmore, “So it’s great a world sports event is coming to Edinburgh. There’ll be fantastic shots of the city on TV.”

WOC 2024 is partnered with the Heart of Scotland Appeal, a charity aiming to reduce the number of people affected by heart disease in Scotland. Stood beside their smiling mascot, one representative told me, “Orienteering and heart health go together. Through WOC, we want to raise awareness in Scotland of ways to prevent lifestyle heart disease.”

As well as working with researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Napier, the Heart of Scotland Appeal run community heart health checks and online projects. If you’re signing up for the WOC Tour, you’ll find a link to donate—or you can click here.

For visitors to Scotland’s capital, this summer is set to be an exciting combination of spectacle and sport.

Find out more about WOC 2024 here.

Image above of Megan Carter Davies credit William Hollowell

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