The World Cup – 25 editions since 1986

The essence of the World Cup: dedicated sponsors, lots of excitement, big crowds.


First staged in 1986, the official IOF World Cup in Orienteering has very successfully recognised athletes’ performance over a full season, in a variety of race formats on varied types of terrain all over the world. The World Cup has brought elite-level orienteering to many countries, helping to make orienteering much better-known and providing many new promotional opportunities.

The World Cup was initially held every other year, alternating with the World Championships, but since 2005 it has been held every year. Up to and including 2019, 25 editions of the World Cup have taken place.

Many changes in World Cup format
The number of individual races per year has varied from as few as six in 1994 to the maximum so far of thirteen races in 2008, 2012 and 2013. Since 2005, the three World Championship (WOC) individual finals have been included in the programme; in 2005, when WOC was in Japan, World Cup races were otherwise held only in Great Britain and Italy. In 2006 there were again just three countries – Estonia, Denmark (WOC) and France – but since then the number of countries visited per year has risen again, the highest being  seven in 2014.

The first five editions featured an individual competition only. A relay competition was introduced in 1994, and through to 2006 it featured 3 races per year, apart from 2002 when there were 4. Relays have always been staged in conjunction with individual World Cup events in the same country.

New formats were first tried internationally in the World Cup. Here is Galina Vinogradova, Russia competing in the World Cup Knock-out Sprint race in Göteborg, Sweden in 2011.

Innovations: Short distance and Sprint, Mass starts, Chasing starts and Knock-Out Sprint
A key objective of the World Cup has been to try out new competition forms at top level. All the individual races until 1994 were over ‘Classic’ distance – now called Long distance. In 1994 a ‘Short’ race was included, and ‘Short’ continued to be a part of the programme until 2000 when an ‘Ultra Short’ race was also included, for the first time, held in Lahti, Finland. The names were changed to Middle and Sprint in 2002, when 3 Middle and 3 Sprint races were staged. That year, an Ultra Long race was part of the programme – the only time so far. 2002 was a particularly intense season for the elite, with six World Cup rounds including 13 individual races.

Mass-start classic races with loops (‘one-man-relay’) were fashionable in the 1990s. Chasing starts, over Long or Middle distance, have been included in the programme in 2008 and 2011-13; in 2008 there was also a Long distance race with Pair-start. The next big development where the World Cup was used as a proving ground was the introduction of Knock-Out Sprint, the first four being held in Sweden: Stockholm in 2010 (won by home athlete Helena Jansson and Fabian Hertner, Switzerland), Göteborg in 2011 and 2012, and Sigtuna in 2013.

Opportunities for smaller nations
Another key objective of the World Cup has been to enhance the ability of individual nations to stage world-class events. Smaller o-nations such as Hong Kong and Ireland, and more recently the Baltic states and Turkey, have staged World Cup races.

Thirty-three IOF member nations have staged a World Cup race at one time or another. Switzerland holds the record, 17, for the number of years in which a country has staged a World Cup event. Close to Switzerland in level of contribution come Norway (16), Sweden (15) and Finland (13). In 2010 and 2012, events in these countries have been grouped together as a Nordic Tour. The whole of O-Ringen (counted as one event) was included in the World Cup in 1998.

Then, in terms of number of events held, there is a huge jump to Czech Republic and France (both 6) and Hungary (5). Australia, Denmark and Great Britain have all held World Cup races in 4 different years; see the table below.

The first years
The inaugural competition in 1986 was ambitious, with athletes travelling to eight different countries: Norway, Canada, USA, France, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Switzerland. An athlete’s best 4 results in the 8 races counted in the final analysis, with the overall winners coming from Norway and Sweden: Ellen Sofie Olsvik and Kent Olsson. Orienteers from 25 countries in all took part, with the average number of competitors at the eight events being 54 women and 73 men. France had the top figure for one event with 76 women and 101 men, while Czechoslovakia saw the highest number of participating countries, namely 21.

The second edition in 1988 brought complaints about cost and timing: races in Hong Kong and Australia in January were not entirely popular with European athletes for whom it was normally ‘close season’ – and there was no sponsorship for the World Cup. Norwegian Øyvin Thon had won the men’s competition before the final round, but the women’s class was very close; the Norwegian athlete Ragnhild Bratberg came out just on top, overtaking compatriot Brit Volden in the last race.

Canada and USA were popular venues again in both 1990 and 1992, prior to the World Championships in USA in 1993. In these years, races began to be grouped into 4 or 3 compact rounds, a practice that has continued in almost every edition since.

Let us hope that after a blank year in 2020 we can again hold a full World Cup programme in 2021.

Further articles about the World Cup to be published shortly will feature the most successful women and men athletes across the 25 editions, and team achievements.

Number of years in which a country has staged one or more World Cup races
17: Switzerland; 16: Norway; 15: Sweden; 13: Finland; 6: Czech Republic, France; 5: Hungary; 4: Australia, Denmark, Great Britain, Latvia; 3: Canada, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Poland, USA; 2: Czechoslovakia, Japan, Portugal, New Zealand, Ukraine; 1: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Hong Kong, Ireland, Lithuania, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey.

Text by Clive Allen