3rd Sprint format testing

It’s less than 6 months left before the first official race of the new 3rd Sprint format. The race is scheduled for 4th October 2018 at the IOF Orienteering World Cup Final in Prague, Czech Republic.

The 3rd Sprint format consists of a qualification race followed by 3 elimination rounds (quarterfinals, semifinals and final).

This sprint race format will be added to the existing individual sprint and mixed sprint relay races in the World Orienteering Championships programme starting 2020. You can read more about race concept here.

This February, one of the test races took place in Berga, Spain during MOC Camp, organised by Park World Tour Italy.

We asked Elena Roos and Jonas Leandersson to share their experience after test race. In the end of this article you will find insights from Daniel Leibundgut, IOF World Orienteering Championships Project Manager/Senior Event Adviser.

The knock-out sprint is the one and only head-to-head individual race in the foot orienteering. What are your general impressions about this sprint format after the test race? What did you like or dislike about this format?

Elena Roos: I really like it! We tested it at MOC Camp and last year in Switzerland. I like this type of head-to-head competitions, for example, like a first leg at relays… And not everyone likes it!

I think that in this type of competition, some runners can achieve better results than they would achieve in an individual race, because they could benefit (technically and physically) from having better runners in the same heat. And sometimes, better individual runners could lose because they have to do the whole work during the race but get beaten in the end. That’s maybe a negative part of this format. On the other hand, it is good way to open up the competition and give more athletes a chance to win.

Jonas Leandersson: It is an interesting format, and I think it is a good choice for the new discipline in Sprint WOC as it already has been tested before (knock-out in NORT). Head-to-head race is a special format, especially in sprint, and it brings some new challenges. You need to think more about your position and to be able to finish top 2 (or 3). I like it, but it is really important to make it as fair as possible.

Knock-out sprint format consists of the qualification round, quarterfinals, semifinals and final. It means 4 different races on the same day. Is it too much for a single racing day? What challenges might be ahead for the athletes?

ER: At the MOC Camp it went well for me. The rounds were quite short, only 6-8 minutes. So I think we are trained enough to perform well in a normal qualification sprint of ca 13min and then 3 times 8 minutes. But for sure, a new challenge will be to optimize the recovery between the rounds.

JL: With shorter winning times of 6-8 minutes I think it is still OK. But the challenge is the time between all races. You really need to plan your energy-intake (food), rest/travelling, warm up and so on.

Does this race format require the same preparation level as the “normal” sprint race? Or do athletes need to take a different approach?

ER: Yes, I think so! Just as the sprint relay requires the same preparation as the individual sprint, also this knockout sprint requires good preparation. In the end, you want to know the race terrain as well as possible. But in this competition, due to the contact with the opponents, tactical preparation is also important and decisive!

JL: I think it is a real challenge to mentally reload for the next race. It is a long day and you need to keep your focus through all races. During normal sprint days, with qualification and final the same day, it is also a key to reload for the final, but the knock-out format brings this to an even higher level.

Women semifinal

Three types of forking are up for consideration: no forking, “course choice model” and butterfly/phi-loop type. What cons and pros of each method do you see?

ER: At MOC camp we used all three methods: phi-loop at the quarterfinal, “self-choice” at the semifinal and “no forking” in the final.

Phi-loop is the most common forking type. Pro – everyone runs the same course. Cons – depending on who you run with in the phi-loop can decide the qualification to the next round. This is a bit unfair.

“Self-choice” disadvantage – not everyone runs the same course. If you are alone and the other 5 runners are together on the same course, it is also unfair. Pro – everyone chooses the own course, so it depends only on you if you take the shortest forking. For me it was fun and I liked it!

In the “no forking” race, everyone runs the same course with the same rivals. It’s fair. Cons – too much running behind the fastest and the winners are decided on the finish sprint. Seems like not orienteering, just a running competition!

Actually, at MOC Camp all three methods were really cool. Even “no forking”, although I was skeptical about it. But a really good terrain with good route choices is needed to split the group in a “no forking” race. I think that the “phi-loops” is the easiest to understand and the most fair method both for athletes and spectators!

Personally, I would like to change the forking system from quarters, to semis and final, like it was done at MOC Camp. For example, “phi-loops” at quarters, “self-choice” at semis and “no forking” at the final.

JL: I think “no forking” is the fairest one and the best choice for this discipline. My experience from a good “no-forking” course is that the runners try to do even more things than during a forked one, because they think they need “to do something” just because there is no forking. With two or three options in route choices for each leg, interesting things could happen for sure during the race. It also feels most fair for all runners when everybody has to run the exact same course.

The “self-choice” model has nothing to bring in to the sport of orienteering in my opinion. It is difficult for the audience to follow and I think (after testing it at MOC) it is more about luck than a qualified decision if you took the right one. Of course, the runners need to practice this more to learn how to optimize our decision skills, but I don’t like the feeling of “oh, I was lucky with my decision this time”. I think I got that feeling because the three different options during MOC were like three different courses instead of three different route choices. It takes longer time to make a comparison between the three options and therefore it felt afterwards like it was more down to luck than a qualified decision.

I think the “phi-loops” method can work sometimes, but it is not as fair as a “no-forking” course. This method also has a “luck” factor, i.e. which runners have the same loop. If one group has faster runners, someone can just follow and advance to the semifinal just by following behind. There can also be a difference between the runners with the first route choice going in to the phi-loop. Depending on which loop you have first you can be influenced differently for the route choice. This can be a bit unfair if one loop has the same beginning of a route choice as another loop. Then some runners need to make the decision when all runners are together and some not depending on if you have it as the first or second loop. Just some thoughts after running with phi-loop in the quarterfinal at MOC camp.

The first official race will be held in the beginning of the October at the World Cup final in Prague, Czech Republic. In your opinion, what things need to be improved or changed before that race?

ER: We definitively need to choose which type of forking to use and then make good courses where this type of forking suits the terrain, because not every type of forking system is good with every type of terrain.

JL: The elimination rules should be improved. In my opinion, 2 “lucky loser” spots would be more fair. 5 heats in quarterfinals, 2 fastest from each heat, plus 2 “lucky losers”, all in all 12 runners promoted to 2 semifinals. Semifinals with 2 heats instead of 3, with the 2 best promoted to the final from each heat, plus 2 “lucky losers”.

I prefer “no-forking” as a standard in quarterfinals, semifinals and final. Organisers should focus on good courses with 2-3 route choices instead of making forking. I think this would be most fair for all runners and would bring more action to the races when runners choose different routes just because they think they need to do something to be in the top 2.


Men Quarterfinal A  Men Quarterfinal B (phi-loops)

Women Quarterfinal A  Women Quarterfinal B (phi-loops)

Men Semifinal A  Men Semifinal B  Men Semifinal C (“self choice”)

Women Semifinal A  Women Semifinal B  Women Semifinal C  (“self choice”)

Men Final  Women Final (no forking)


Final results

Semifinals results

The selected sprint format consists of qualification, quarterfinals, semifinals and a final. This is 4 different races on the same day. Is it too much from the event management perspective? What challenges might lie ahead for the organisers?

Daniel Leibundgut, IOF World Orienteering Championships Project Manager/Senior Event Adviser: Of course it is demanding for both organizers and athletes. In my opinion, the biggest challenge is the competition concept. According to the published format description document, it’s open how you design the four competitions. Preferably all the competitions finish in the same arena. But this can be very difficult when you have to close roads for a whole day in a urban area. Therefore, we haven’t defined a strict schedule for all 4 races. The qualification and the first elimination round could use the same arena with very basic infrastructure, and both could be scheduled in the morning. A second arena is then used for the semi-finals and the finals including live TV coverage.

The first official race will be held in the beginning of the October at the World Cup final in Prague, Czech Republic. How is the format testing going and what feedback from the testing have you received so far?

The format was presented to the coaches at the World Cup Final Round 2017. The Athletes’ Commission gave feedback too. There are no big concerns mentioned so far. We distributed questionnaires to the participants of the test races held at the MOC camps in 2017 and 2018. This is very important to get the athletes’ feedback and fine tune the format.

The IOF Foot Orienteering Commission is finalising the World Cup special rules for the first event in Prague – there we recognized some difficulties to specify all the practical things of such a competition in a simple and easy to understand way.

Depending on the competition terrain and the arenas, the race day schedule may vary from event to event. The main goal is that semi-finals and finals should be held together due to TV broadcasting.

There is no time factor in the selected format. For example, in the cross-country skiing sprint races there are “lucky loser” spots. Why was only “finishing place” based advancement to the next stage selected, and how it could affect racing?

“Keep it simple, stupid” or KISS was the basic idea not to use a timing system. When you start thinking of “lucky losers” concept, you realize that you need an accurate timing system at the start (to prevent any false start) and at the finish. This increases the requirements for organisers very much. One of the goals was to organise the new format on a club level as well as World Cup or WOC competition all over the world – comparable to the other formats like long distance.

In my opinion “lucky losers” would be required only when we decide to have courses without any forking or splitting -as it is in cross country skiing. In this case it’s most important that you are very strong between the last control and the finish line. Before you can follow the pack and then towards the last control you have to fight for a good position in the group to be ready for the sprint to the finish line. Using a forking or splitting system in the courses, will change the situation: here you have to run your course as fast as possible because you may not know from the beginning of the race who will run exactly the same course or where the forking/splitting starts.

Three types of forking are up for consideration. Could you briefly describe cons and pros of each method? What feedback have you received so far regarding these methods?

The three forking methods are Phi/butterfly-loops, no forking and “self-choice”.

For the 3rd Sprint Format, we started thinking from well-known forking systems, like a in a relay, or in an individual competition (a one-man-relay). With an estimated winning time of less than 10 minutes, it’s not possible to use such loops for a sprint competition. In addition, when we want to have several elimination rounds which use the same finish area, it’s quite clear that it is not feasible at all. Therefore, other forking methods are needed for the 3rd sprint format, like for example “butterfly” or “phi-loops”. These are well known and easy to implement. To make it less obvious where the butterfly/phi-loop starts a map change (or map flip, double side printed map) is mandatory. Each butterfly or phi-loop splits runners in only two groups. Therefore at least two forkings are required.

Beside our athletes, we have to consider on how we could “sell” our sport. Especially how we could make it easier to understand and how to present orienteering on TV for both the “insiders” and even more importantly, those who are not familiar with orienteering. Both “one-man-relay” and the “butterfly”/”phi-loop” methods have disadvantages in presenting our sport. The actual standings during the race could only be shown after the forking is completed. Before that, the only option would be to show the GPS tracking, a bunch of dots moving on the map. Even for us, orienteers, it maight be difficult to understand which dot runs towards which control in a forked sprint competition.

At this point, the easiest solution would be a non-forked course, but this is contradictory to the questionnaire outcome we received from the athletes after the tests we did in early spring 2017.

All this leads us to the third option of the “self-choice” model. The basic idea is similar to a long leg route choice: the athlete chooses from one of the offered options, not for one leg but rather for a part of the course. This is more a splitting than a forking model. With the presentation requirements and KISS in mind there shall be only a limited number of forking in the course.

There were some statements, that the self-choosing model may not be in accordance with the IOF rules, where in § 1.5 the types of orienteering competition are described: “the order in which controls are to be visited is either in a specific order (the sequence is prescribed) or in no specific order (the competitor is free to choose the order)”. In my understanding, it is specific but the athlete can choose which option they want to run, similar to a route choice where not everyone runs the same route.

When we could expect the final testing and ready to use 3rd sprint format?

When I compare the development FIS has made during the last years with the sprint competition in cross country skiing, it will take a long time to finalize the 3rd sprint format in orienteering. With the planned tests during World Cup 2018 and 2019, the general format definition shall be ready at least one year before the first WOC competition in 2020. For sure there will be continuous improvements and adjustments to fine tune the format, based on the real event experiences, even after Sprint WOC 2020. The requirements for presenting our sport (TV or other new technologies) may change, and we have to be flexible to adjust the format accordingly. This is not limited to the 3rd sprint format, it’s important for all of our formats (and disciplines) in orienteering.