1973 50 years historic
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Team 50 years historic
Forne and Hubbman 50 years historic
Chat with Alistair Landels |First kiwi on world orienteering podium
By Christo Peters - Tue 6 Feb 2024 5:59pm

1. When did you discover you had a passion and skill for orienteering?
I guess during 1984/85 as a 15-16 year old, was fortunate to have the speed to keep up with a lot of the NZ elite from an early age, first WOC in France 1987 at age 18, finished 47th, 29 mins behind the winner in 126mins.

2. What clubs have you belonged to? 
Currently a member of Auckland, Octavian Droobers UK. Previously South Yorkshire UK, Strängnäs Malmby Sweden, Stora Tuna Sweden

3. What do you remember about your podium win for NZ? What was the event? What was it like, and who were your rivals at that time?
First World Cup of the 1994 series, was 8 races in total that year, I did all 8 in 8 different countries with a total World Cup ranking of 13th that year, it had been 17th in 1992. It was a very special day, first WC ever in NZ. I was relatively well prepared although had been living abroad for the previous two years, so a little out of Woodhill-mode. It was a typically tough Woodhill course, with about 25% native and using the main escarpment in the middle of the southern part of the forest. Generally the tougher and greener a race is the better I will do so knew I had a good chance that day. Technically I had a pretty bad day but everyone else had worse. Lost 3 minutes early on and was caught at the map change by my 3 minute man. However we took a lot of different route choices so didn’t see each other so much. Caught the current World Champion about half way too. Probably between 8 and 15 minutes of mistakes in total which as anyone who ever ran on that map will understand. I think a lot of people gave up fighting after they’d lost so much time, I had run enough WCs in extreme terrain by then to know what can happen. The main rivals were the top of the elite of the 90s, from Carsten (PAPO) to all the usual Swedes, Norwegians, Finns, Swiss, Czechs etc.

4. You didn’t have JWOC to progress through into world competitions, like our juniors have now – so how did you prepare for the event? Where were you based in the lead-up to your podium win? Did you do anything different with your training leading up to it?
Nope, never did a JWOC, didn’t exist in my first European tour as an 18 year old. How did I prepare for the WC in ’94 ? I was based in the UK, doing a fair number of European and UK races and running British fell races which are tough 30-120min hill races. It was a difficult time as almost everything was self-funded. 

5. How was the event run and how does the mapping of that compare to events now? What do you think are the big changes you have seen in orienteering, do you see the level of proficiency rising continually?
Modern maps are significantly better than what I grew up on, but on the other hand learning to manage poorly drawn maps does give you a lot more mental agility to handle difficult situations. I think technology has brought the biggest changes, from electronic punching through to decent live drone footage which we’ve seen this year for the first time. It’s an exciting time and we can really start to say the orienteering can be a TV sport, but it needs good live programme directors.

6. What are some other amazing orienteering experiences that you have had in Europe and in the UK? What are the maps and events that you remember well and why?
I generally look back fondly at some of the more challenging areas I’ve run on, in some pretty amazing terrain, whether it’s oak woodland in New York (WOC 93), the maze-like vegetation and cliffs of Le Caylar (France), Balkan state limestone or the green Volvic (France) terrain where I’ve yet to finish a course – I’ve been training there a couple of times, it’s extremely difficult. I am up to about 38 orienteering countries I think at last count, although it depends a bit on how you count the eastern block break-up of the 90s.

7. For such a small country NZ has really done well in orienteering. Can you see any skills or assets that our NZ athletes might have, that really helps them achieve well?  
I think we have an ability to adapt well to different terrain because NZ has such a wide range or terrain to choose from. And a lot of the terrain can be both physically and technically challenging.

8. In your opinion, what can you see from afar that ONZ could do to support the sport?
I’ve been amazed at the level and depth of junior development over the last 20 years, definitely something that NZ is doing right. Transferring that success to senior elite level takes a lot more commitment and generally involves a lot of travelling or living in Europe as both Tim and I have done. Not sure how to solve that without personal sacrifices or a lot of money.

9. Do you have any key advice for orienteers in NZ today, to help them get up- to-speed and to help them focus on bigger events?
Run faster, and if it’s forest races you want to do well in, then faster in terrain. I don’t really like to quote track times for orienteering but if you can’t run 31-32 mins or faster for a 10km then you will struggle to reach the top, and for sprint that’s even faster as Tim can attest.

10. What drives you to keep orienteering and achieving well? We see you on  the podium – as seen at the JK this year and the 2023 British camps last year. What is your motivation to keep going at the same level?  
I like to race, but usually only if it looks like interesting or different terrain. I don’t run much anymore due to arthritis in my foot and I’ve already had one hip replacement. I have taken up cycling in the last 3 years and bizarrely found that since I have given up trying to get fit running I’ve actually gotten fitter from the cycling. It’s only through that which has pushed me back to the top of orienteering race fields. But it has to be “hard cycling” to get the cardiovascular and mitochondrial effects required for true performance gains. Be humbled and join a cycle club. Most of the interesting things I get up to are on Strava if anyone is interested.

11. And finally, we noticed you started working for OCAD as a software engineer last year. What sort of work are you doing? Are you working with other orienteers? Is there any exciting news from OCAD we should be aware of?
I’ve been there about 6 months now (working remote from the UK), and am working on new tools for new ideas. It’s a small company of 6 people, 3 near-full-time developers and 3 others (manager, marketing; office), most of them are or have been orienteers. My role is necessarily broad as it’s a small company, generally involving a fair amount of maths, user-interface design, software architecture, and even dealing with legal aspects of privacy policy statements formapp-stores. The big news from OCAD at the moment is the release of the route-analyser module which enables course planners to test different scenarios for routes when planning courses. It generally requires a DEM (digital elevation model) and can then apply weighting to run-ability etc. to compare different routes between controls.

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