Soldiers from 26 Countries Gather for World Military Orienteering Championship

Orienteering is a sport that combines racing with the use of maps and compasses.
Andréa Barretto/Diálogo | 3 January 2017

International Relations

Provisional Tech Sergeant Edinéia Roniak dos Santos was part of the Brazilian delegation that participated in the 49th World Military Orienteering Championship. (Photo: Didier Grosherns)

Sports were one activity that defined 2016. And the Brazilian Armed Forces were no exception, closing the year by hosting the 49th World Military Orienteering Championship from November 17th-23rd at the Brazilian Naval Air Base, in the Lagos region in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

The event gathered 206 athletes from 26 countries, including Chile, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Seven men and four women represented Brazil in the competition.

“The determining factor for our results in the championship was the dedication and unity of the team. We are a tight-knit family of athletes from the three armed forces,” said Provisional Tech Sergeant Edinéia Roniak dos Santos. The sportswoman began her military career in the Brazilian Army in 2014, when she was selected to take part in the High Performance Athlete Program associated with the ministries of Defense and Sport.

Multiple abilities

Orienteering is a sport more widely practiced in Europe than in Brazil.

The discipline combines elements of running with traditional military navigational skills, as it requires the athlete to be able to read a map and use a compass as guides.

The competition starts with setting up the course — generally outdoors and in the countryside — along which mandatory travel points. These travel points are markers on a map given to each orienteer at the time of the competition.

“When the stopwatch starts, the athlete must open the map, find his or her bearings, and using a compass set off for an area, sequentially passing through the points that are marked on the map. The winner is the person who is able to pass through all of the points in the shortest time,” explained Lieutenant General Paulo Martino Zuccaro, director of the Department of Military Sports for the Brazilian Ministry of Defense.

Each participant receives a map, a compass and a digital key that must be inserted into mini computers scattered throughout the terrain, from start to finish. Using this system, each athlete’s time and movement through the set points on the map can be monitored. An athlete that fails to cross through a point, or does not follow the established sequence, is disqualified.

“The fact that the competition is held in the middle of the forest, over uneven terrain, requires the orienteer to have an extraordinary physical capacity. Additionally, the orienteer must have the necessary mental agility to handle the map and compass together in order to quickly choose the best paths from one point to another,” Lt. Gen. Zuccaro said, adding that the points are fixed, but the route between points is variable. It is up to the athlete to decide which route to take. “For example, he can go through the brush, or go around it along a trail that was established in that area.”

Brazilian competitors and members of the technical staff participated in the championship

City and country

Three trials were held in the 49th World Military Orienteering Championship. The first trial took place on an average-length course; the second over a longer course out in the country in the Rio das Ostras municipality. The third trial was an urban relay in the city of Búzios.

The first course required athletes to cross through 16 points. Male competitors had to cover slightly more than five kilometers, while female athletes were required to cover around four kilometers. As in most orienteering competitions, the points for men are spread out across longer distances from each other, than they are for women.

In the long course, men had to cover 28 points and approximately 12 kilometers of ground, while women had to travel 6 kilometers.

“I had some difficulties on the average-length course, as it was a faster and more technical trial,” said Sgt. Edinéia, who participated in all three trials. “On day two, in the trial over the long course, I was more confident because I like long-distance runs. Adding up my results on the two courses, plus my teammates’ results, our team took 6th place,” Sgt. Edinéia said.

Holding trials in the city is a recent development in the orienteering sports world. The idea of taking this discipline into the urban space arose from a desire to promote the sport more widely. Despite the different environment, the competitive principle remains the same – the points are spread out along city streets, and each competitor sets off on the route with a map and compass. “It is a very lively trial. We have music, sports casting, and a crowd of locals who are in close proximity to the participants,” Lt. Gen. Zuccaro said.

Búzios was chosen as the host city because of its diverse and eclectic architecture, which blends colonial and modern styles with lots of greenery. Another factor that affected the selection was the city’s smooth flow of traffic.

The competition was not held in an isolated area, but event organizers took precautions to choose quieter streets for the transit points. “We also put some security features in place along stretches with more traffic, to reduce vehicle speeds,” explained Lt. Gen. Zuccaro.

This was the fifth time Brazil hosted the World Military Orienteering Championship. It was held twice in Paraná, in 1983 and 2006, with nine and 27 countries participating respectively. Another edition was held in 1992 in Brasília, with 12 nations participating. The penultimate championship hosted by Brazil was held in Rio de Janeiro in 2011, with 28 countries participating.

This was Sgt. Edinéia’s first experience at a world event. She is focused on a six-day-a-week training regimen and hopes that this is just the beginning. “I know that I have a lot to learn now, and each day I am more determined!”

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