With WOC and JWOC over, the Australian Carnival underway, and only one round of the World Cup (with Tim Robertson our only entrant) to go, orienteering activity has levelled off a bit through September. That has given time for thoughts about where we currently are at and what changes/modifications to we need to make to both the High Performance plan and how we generally approach HP orienteering in New Zealand. So no apologies are offered for the fact that this set of HP News concentrates very heavily on analysis. However, congratulations are also due to the Schools’ Team for some excellent results this week in the Australian Schools Championships.
Australian Schools Championships
Although I am not yet sure of the final results in the Southern Cross Challenge, there have been some excellent performances by the schools’ team in Australia this week including winning 3 of the 4 relays. The only individual winner was Sofia Safkova in the Junior Girls long distance although there were second placings for Briana Steven in Senior Girls and Jenna Tidswell in the Senior Girls sprint. Winning and New Zealand times and places were as follows.
Junior Boys: 1. Dante Afnan (SA) 10-07, 3. Sebastian Safika 10-39, 4. Isaac Egan 10-42, 6. Will Tidswell 11-14, 8. Tom Harding 11-33.
Junior Girls: 1. Joanna George (SA) 10-31, 3. Jessica Sewell 10-45, 5. Georgia Skelton 11-17, 8. Sofia Safkova 11-26, 12. Olivia Collins 12-05.
Senior Boys: 1. Angus Haines (SA) 10-57, 3. Callum Hill 11-48, 6. Max Griffiths 12-12, 9. Andrei Popovici 12-23, Calum Sutherland mp.
Senior Girls: 1. Tara Melhuish (ACT) 11-40, 2. Jenna Tidswell 12-01, 3. Briana Steven 12-19, 4. Carolyne Nel 12-36, 8. Georgina Dibble 12-51.
Junior Boys: 1Tristan Miller (ACT) 34-43, 4. Tom Harding 38-20, 5. Isaac Egan 39-09, 10. Will Tidswell 43-27, 11. Sebastian Safika 43-42.
Junior Girls: 1. Sofia Safkova 33-31, 9. Olivia Collins 41-03, 10. Jessica Sewell 41-19, 13. Georgia Skelton 43-22.
Senior Boys: 1. Patrick Jaffe (VIC) 43-22, 4. Andrei Popovici 52-10, 6. Max Griffiths 53-14, 11. Callum Hill 56-03, 16. Calum Sutherland 1-02-10.
Senior Girls: 1. Caroline Pigerre (QLD) 54-59, 2. Briana Steven 55-27, 5. Carolyne Nel 1-00-27, 7. Georgina Dibble 1-01-23, 8. Jenna Tidswell 1-01-27.
Junior Boys: 1. New Zealand 1-13-29, 2. New South Wales 1-13-39, 3. Queensland 1-15-12.
Junior Girls: 1. New Zealand 1-12-21, 2. ACT 1-19-32, 3. South Australia 1-27-56.
Senior Boys: 1. Victoria 1-40-00, 2. ACT 1-41-35, 3. New Zealand 1-48-49.
Senior Girls: 1. New Zealand 1-54-24, 2. Queensland 2-13-02, 3. ACT 2-21-00.
At the end of July, in the aftermath of JWOC, I commented on a brief set of statistics showing where New Zealand juniors had finished in the field over the years 2011-2016. These, shown again below in the form of the number of finishers in each quartile of the field in the sprint and long distance events, and the number of qualifiers for the middle distance final, tended to suggest that, relative to the Junior Men, the Junior Women were underperforming.
This raised, at least in my mind, the question of why this was the case. Several people contacted me with their suggestions, or indeed suggested that the basic premise was not in fact correct but could be the result of, for example, changes in the size of fields. As a result I
have now had a somewhat deeper look at JWOC results going back 10 years, including tracking improvements or otherwise of athletes who have competed several times at JWOC. What follows is not a complete analysis but, I still maintain, supports the original assertion and requires some hard questions to be asked.
The four graphs below show JWOC performances in the sprint and long distance by individual athletes over the last 10 years. The y-axis represents where an athlete finished in the field – for example 0.1 represents a finish in the top 10% of the field – in other words the lower the number the higher the finish. Where a line is red it shows that from one year to the next an athlete improved from one quartile of the field into a higher quartile (e.g. top 50% to top 25%). Similarly a blue line shows a drop in performance from one quartile to another (e.g. top 50% to top 75%). Although this is, admittedly, a relatively simplistic way of representing the data, it does give an idea both of the general level of performance and how individual athletes’ performances changed from year to year.
There are several points that appear to stand out from the graphs.
- In both sprint and long distance there have been many more finishes in the top 25% of the field by the men than by the women.
- No woman has finished in the top 25% of the sprint field since 2013 (and then only just) or in the top 25% of the long distance field since 2011.
- A significant number of men have improved their performance continually over a number of years in both the sprint and the long.
- There are far fewer examples of such sustained improvement among the women.
- In the long distance there is considerable variability in performance from year to year (e.g. red-blue-red) by the women.
- There appear to be more men who are in the JWOC team for only 1 year than women.
- Not counting occasional DNF’s and mp’s (which are not shown) there are very few finishes in the bottom 25% of the field.Are these observations significant, and if so, what do they indicate? First consider the size of the fields in each year. These are shown below. In terms of the general size of the fields it is only in 2007, when JWOC was in Australia, that both men’s and women’s fields have been significantly smaller. In general the men’s field is about 20-30 larger than the women’s. It could therefore be argued that having a larger number of weaker runners in the men’s field might make it easier to get a higher placing percentage wise. In contrast to this, however, it is demonstrably true that the strength in depth in the women’s field is weaker than in the men’s field. For example, to make the top half of the field in the long distance at JWOC, in either Norway last year or Switzerland this year, required a man to be less than 25-29% behind the average time of the three place getters. For the women the required time was about 37% behind this base time. In the sprint comparable figures were about 15% behind for the men and 23% behind for the women. Thus it does appear that not only are the women’s performances behind the men in terms of placing, but also considerably further behind relative to the top runners.
So, why is this and what can we do to address it? It certainly seems that much of what is lacking lies not in technical orienteering skills, which are heavily addressed at training camps. Rather, the indication may be that there is room for improvement in physical preparation, and it is in this area that I suspect we need to concentrate on. However, in formulating ideas of what to do and how to do it, it’s worth remembering that the IOF Guidelines for JWOC include the following statement:
“…the event shall have a social, rather than a competitive atmosphere, accentuating exchange of experience…”
In other words, in aiming to develop a pool of high calibre orienteers who will ultimately progress to WOC and World Cup races, we cannot afford to put in place a regime which is too onerous and stifles the enjoyment. The idea of the High Performance Under 23 Squad is to provide a social environment and training structure from which significant orienteering and physical improvements will follow. Training camps certainly have been and remain a social occasion where technical skills are learnt, but in general have concentrated on talks on training philosophy rather than spending time on actual development of individual training programmes. I see a need therefore to shift this focus and in doing so to improve the communication between, and with, individuals so that much more support and guidance is available. I think it is fair to say that this is one area of the HP Plan which, although mooted, has not yet happened. A first step in this will be the circulation of an end-of-season questionnaire to all Squad members which will include the encouragement to provide a monthly training diary. It is under consideration that doing this, possibly through a vehicle such as Attackpoint, may become a requirement of Squad membership. The establishment of a mentoring system utilizing the experience of many of our ex-elite women is also being considered.
To be fair to those at JWOC level it is also worth considering the performance criteria required for admission into the Senior Squad. Leaving aside being selected for WOC or finishing in the top 3 at the National or Oceania Championships, these require 3 finishes in the last 3 years (at top international level) within a given percentage of the base time as defined above (average of the top 3 finishers). The percentages are 15% for sprints and 20% for middle/long for the men and 20% for sprints and 30% for middle/long for women. Although in determining squad membership no distinction is made between sprint and forest performances, it is interesting to note that presently 3 men qualify by virtue of sprint performances only and 2 by virtue of results in middle/long distance races (one of whom also qualifies through sprint results). Among the women there are 2 who qualify through sprint results only and 1 who meets both the sprint and middle/long standards. In short, therefore, even at Senior level it is arguable that results in long (middle) distance suggest a need to improve physical preparation.
One thing that has possibly led to this situation is the lack of quality long distance events which have winning times that are even close to the times that are the norm for NZL athletes at JWOC and WOC level. This is shown by the table below. The second column shows the time taken by the fastest New Zealand athlete in the long distance race at JWOC and WOC averaged over the last 3 years. The remaining columns show the winning times at New Zealand major events (Regional and National Championships) in 2015 and 2016 in M21E, W21E, M20A and W20A.
It seems clear that, in general, our major events come nowhere close to mimicking what our athletes can expect to encounter at JWOC and WOC – only the South Island Championships in 2015 comes close to doing this. Remember the times shown in the second column are for the fastest New Zealander – the others are out longer, and in some cases much longer. Perhaps the time has come not only for a revision on expected winning times in our highest-level grades, but a concerted effort to make sure that this winning times are actually implemented. It is also true that, with much of our top level orienteering taking place in sand-dune forest, the terrain encountered at both JWOC and WOC is usually much physically tougher. This was well illustrated by a comment that Rene Beveridge made to the “Development” Squad juniors at Murawai last December – “Woodhill Forest is fabulous orienteering but it is no preparation for running at WOC”.
So, yes, we’re looking good in some areas but there is still much work to be done….
WOC/JWOC Trials 2017
As announced on the ONZ website the trials for the team for the World Orienteering Championships 2017 will be the three individual events (sprint, middle, long) at the Oceania Championships to be held at Easter 2017. Overseas based athletes who will not be at these races need to nominate suitable World Ranking Events between 1 March and 17 April 2017. WOC itself is in Estonia in the first week of July.
Dates and venues for JWOC trials, and for trials for the team for the Schools Test Match to be held in Rotorua during the week after Oceania, are still being considered and will be announced in due course.
The last major event of 2017 is the final round of the World Cup which is being held in Switzerland from14-16 October. This round consists of a sprint relay, a long distance and a sprint. Tim Robertson is the only New Zealand entrant and will run only the sprint, which is on Sunday 16 October. However, for the night-owls, as for JWOC this year there should be excellent live tracking of all events.