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Can NZ’s top orienteers retain top spot in 18th Adventure Racing World championships?
By Joolz - Wed 14 Sep 2022 9:37pm

You would think the two top ranked Adventure racing teams in the world, who were 1st and 2nd last year, would be clear favourites for this year’s Adventure Racing World Champs (ARWC), but in the last two years the world’s top team from New Zealand was not able to compete. After two years of pandemic, and with the New Zealand borders remaining closed, Team Avaya have been unable to compete internationally but they have continued their unbeaten record locally.  With a victory at the iconic New Zealand expedition races in GODZone 2021 and 2022, and previous to that, with their last wins were on Reunion Island winning the World’s Toughest Race, and Eco Challenge Fiji. Team Avaya had set the standard in Adventure racing winning the ARWC title 5 years in a row between 2014 and 2018 with teamwork and navigation their key strength. 

“None of us have raced in Paraguay before so that is a huge appeal, to travel and explore somewhere new.,” says team leader and Nelson Orienteer Nathan Fa’avae. “The 2016 ARWC in Pantanal (Brazil) was an incredible experience, and with Paraguay being close by, it has always been tempting to travel there. We also know that Urtzi will design an excellent course. It’s rare to have a current racer working as a course designer but it usually results in a better course, so that’s another good reason to participate.”The courses have been set by Race Director Urtzi Iglesias, who is a member of the Vidaraid team, currently ranked #3 in the world, but his team is not racing this year. Urtzi’s course will be put to the test by 53 teams, from 18 countries and 5 continents. The Swedish Armed Forces Adventure Team will be defending the title they won last year in Spain. 

Fa’avae comments “we’ve always been keen to race in Paraguay, but it’s been a hard winter in New Zealand with Covid and influenza. It’s been difficult to stay healthy, especially in what has been a cold and wet winter. Added to that, Chris has been recovering from an injury, so we needed to make sure that we were able to attain a level to be competitive’.

The team prepared well throughout August but was struck by another set back when Sophie Hart was training in the mountains and suffered a fall, resulting in an injury that will see her unable to compete again until 2023. With one of the core team members not able to attend the Championship race, the team had to decide if they wished to continue on their campaign, or miss another year and refocus on 2023.

“At first we weren’t keen to race without Sophie, everyone in the team is incredibly valued and the reality is that we have polished the model of how we race so much that racing together is natural and easy, in terms of how to win major events, we’ve cracked the code” says Fa’avae. Luckily Inform racer and friend of the team, Simone Maier, was willing to join the team at late notice. “We’ll miss Sophie for sure, but we’re incredibly grateful for Simone to step in at last minute. We want to participate in the World Champs and be competitive, and with her we know we can be, it’ll be fun”.

Even though the team have been a late entry, they have been training hard mixing navigation with speed. A recent Ultra Long orienteering event put on by the University of Canterbury  at Hogsback in Castle hill area in early September which gave Chris confidence that his navigation and off trail running skills were still up-to-speed. 

The AR race will test their navigation, running and biking as they pedal through sand and mud, and carrying out rope activities on rock walls and waterfalls. The beginning of the race starts with a 122km  trek, followed by a 94km kayak stage. Teams race non-stop, for up to 7 days, on a 550km course designed to challenge the best endurance athletes in the world and navigation is the part that can make or break a team. Chris Forne is New Zealand’s top adventure racing navigator, as well as an ex elite orienteer from Peninsula and Plains Orienteers in Canterbury, Chris says he isn’t able to do much map preparation in advance as there are so many unknowns. “I really look at the map once they are presented, and even then, we know there will be far more local tracks that will not be marked.’ Stu Lynch is the back-up navigator and also an orienteer from North West Orienteering Club in Auckland.

Nathan adds, “The last time we raced ARWC was 2018, but I believe we can still be competitive. You never really know what your chances are until you see the course and determine if it plays to your strengths or not, but I think with our experience and team culture we should be able to adapt to most things. We hope to win another world title, but there is a competitive field and the racing will be exciting.”

Adventure Racers around the globe meet in Paraguay on Saturday, September 17th, Paraguay’s Expedicion Guarani  hosts the AR World Championship 2022 and supporters can follow the progress of all of the teams on the live race tracking platform at https://www.expedicionguarani.com/arwc2022

2022 Team Avaya: Stu Lynch, Simone Maier, Nathan Fa’avae & Chris Forne

#ARWC2022 #adventurerace #expeditionrace #orientering #Adventurenavigation #navigationsport #mapsport

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