JK Memories – Coordinator’s Roundup

Harold White, LVO – JK 2011 Event Coordinator writes

This April sees the 10th anniversary of the first Jan Kjellstrom International Orienteering Festival to be held in Northern Ireland on the weekend of 22 to 25 April 2011.

In writing these memories, I have been continually reminded of the massive contribution of the late Colin Henderson to the event’s success. As well as being the Organiser for Days 2 and 3, and Assistant Organiser for Day 4, he was heavily involved in many more aspects of the event. Nine years previous Colin had been instrumental in bringing the British Championships to Northern Ireland, and was heavily involved in its success.  His good humour and infectious enthusiasm has been an inspiration to us all. Colin was much loved and is sadly missed.

The Swiss Role

The idea of staging the JK arose from conversations amongst the orienteers from here at the Swiss O Week in 2006. A dialogue with British Orienteering about the possibility of Northern Ireland Orienteering staging a JK subsequently took place and with their encouragement, an inaugural meeting of interested parties within the Northern Ireland orienteering community was held in March 2008.

At that stage the main issues to be considered were the identification of competition areas of sufficient size and technical difficulty; the recruitment of enough volunteers to undertake the many tasks; and the generation of enough competitor interest from outside Ireland to make it financially viable.

The JK being a major BOF event with its own rules and practices, coupled with the recommendation from BOF that we include International Orienteering Federation World Ranking Events as part of the Sprint and Long Distance competitions, that have their own rules, meant that we needed to provide a very high standard of course planning and organisation.

Part of the feasibility assessment were visits by Mike Richardson, the BOF Co-ordinating Controller, Dave Peel and Helen Errington, Major Events Managers at BOF, and Ronan and Julie Cleary the IOF Event Advisors. In addition BOF appointed Brian Bullen as Controller for the Middle and Long Distance on Day 2, Graham Nilsen as Controller for the Long Distance on Day 3, and Andy Lewsley as Controller for the Relays. Their input was invaluable throughout the whole process and greatly appreciated by the organising team.

Scout and About

At a fairly early stage we identified Stranmillis University College and Queen’s Elms Village for the Sprint, Slieve Croob for the Long Distance on Day 3, and Tyrella South for the Relays but we were having difficulty in finding a suitable venue for the Middle and Long Distance on Day 2 partly due to environmental issues. Glenariff was ruled out due to the presence of Red Kites, Binevenagh due to rare mushrooms, and Tollymore due to Sudden Oak Death Disease.  After some debate about the feasibility of staging two competitions at Tyrella South, it was agreed that the competitions on Days 2 and 4 would be held there.

WRE Sprint Course

With Sprint, Middle Distance and TrailO being relatively new orienteering disciplines, and with Relays being a fairly infrequent occurrence, the teams involved in staging these competitions took every opportunity to attend such events in Britain and overseas to build up their expertise. Their learning was further developed by staging similar events prior to the JK in 2011, including the Sprint and Relay competitions at IOC 2010.

Several members of the organising team attended the BOF Major Events Conference in September 2008 where the main theme was to make multi-day events more of a festival experience with an emphasis on catering for families and improving the social and spectator aspects. It was also the final opportunity for us to convince BOF that we had the capability and skills to stage a JK and it was confirmed shortly afterwards that that we would be holding the JK in 2011.


Our initial assessment was that we would need about 2200 competitors to make the event financially viable, and with maybe only about 300 competitors from Ireland, our task was to attract a large number from abroad, not easy with the likely additional travel costs for those travelling from Britain. Fortunately we were able to negotiate fare discounts with Stenaline for the Irish Seas crossings. In addition to facilitate visiting competitors we arranged accommodation at Stranmillis College with coach transport to the events.

For families we offered split start times, string courses, and parking close to the competition arenas. For adults and children on the Friday we provided the Magic Maze that proved to be very popular. To add to the social nature of the event a Table Quiz, organised by the Irish Junior Squad, was held on the Saturday evening at Stranmillis College , and Routegadget Talks and a Social were held in the Slieve Donard Hotel on the Sunday night where the entertainment was a showcase of Irish and Ulster-Scots music, song, and dance.

Come on on over to NI for O

As an international event of this size would be significant in a Northern Ireland context we made a grant application to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to promote the event abroad. Additional applications were made to Belfast City Council and Sport Northern Ireland for assistance with the Sprint competition. Their support greatly helped in the marketing of the event, that included flyer drops at events at home and overseas, advertisements in orienteering magazines, and a marketing presence at the Swedish ORingen in 2010. It resulted in a much higher number of competitors (323) from outside the British Isles than had been seen at the JK for some years. The highest representation was from Norway (90) and Sweden (80) and in all representatives from 23 overseas countries took part. The numbers from Ireland were 242, and from Britian 1534 making an overall total of 2099.  Support for the prize giving was provided by Norman Walsh Footwear.

Lists and Lists of Lists

With the much larger number of competitors than our norm and the specific BOF and IOF requirements, the organisers had to deal with a much larger workload that included:

Sprint racing. Credit Crawford Lindsay

  • the recruitment of officials (51) and helpers (223);
  • having a logo design competition;
  • establishing a website; with the regular updating of information;
  • the appointment of mappers to survey the competition areas, and a printer;
  • complying with BOF and IOF map and printing standards;
  • obtaining land access where detailed risk assessment reports were required by the landowners of two of the venues;
  • completing the BOF risk assessment reports and implementing measures to minimise risks;
  • planning the many courses for each competition;
  • borrowing SI and other equipment from NIOA and IOA clubs;
  • hiring generators, marquees, portaloos, walkie talkies, a van for transferring equipment and skips (6) for removing rubbish
  • hiring control stakes, sticking on control codes, and removing them after the competition
  • appointing an entry and results provider
  • the establishment of Complaint and Protest procedures
  • appointing Juries and having facilities available should they have to meet
  • establishing parking sites and issuing parking permits (we had 700 cars, 50 motor homes and 4 coaches to cater for)
  • having a tractor available at Slieve Croob should the weather prove difficult for parked vehicles
  • civil engineering tasks at the competition venues
  • making arrangements for the attending food and equipment traders;
  • arranging accommodation for visiting officials;
  • providing programme, and results documents with officials’ reports;
  • publishing Bulletins 1 and 2 for the World Ranking Events;
  • providing model maps for the WRE competitions:
  • providing water stations on the courses for the WRE competitors;
  • the printing of competition bibs;
  • dealing with entry enquiries and late changes;
  • seeding of competitors for the Elite start lists;
  • publication of start lists;
  • assessing signage requirements, having them printed, and displaying them;
  • providing a daily newsletter to be given to arriving competitors at each competition;
  • providing first aid cover where we had an external medical provider with four paramedics, members of St John’s Ambulance with two ambulances, and 16 LVO First Aiders with all controlled by the Safety Officer.
  • providing a public address system and a commentary team;
  • filming proceedings and posting promotional videos on youtube.com

Few of these tasks proved to be straightforward and their resolution demonstrated the determination and ingenuity of the officials involved.

The large number of officials and helpers was an indicator of the enormity of the task. As well as a large number of NIOA members we received assistance from our friends in IOA clubs, from some overseas competitors, from some local organisations, and from friends and family members.

An Event of Scale

Heading into intricate dunes at Tyrella. Credit Crawford Lindsay

Given the intricate nature of the terrain at Tyrella South the Planners, and Controllers felt that the terrain would be best represented at a map scale of 1:7,500 with 2.5m contours for the Middle and Long Distance courses on Day 2 rather than the BOF specified scale of 1:10,000 with 5.0m contours. When tested at 1:7,500 scale with 2.5m contours they merged on the steeper slopes that could have been overcome by using narrower contour lines than prescribed by BOF. This led to a long-running discussion with the BOF Mapping Group, on the correct representation of the terrain where in the end we were instructed to use the BOF rules. This was finally decided in January 2011 and left little time for the fine tuning of course planning. For the shorter courses of the Long Distance on Day 2, and all courses at the Relays, we used a 1:7,500 scale map with 5.0m contours.

Other mapping issues were the method of printing where we looked at the possibility of using waterproof paper, and at the possibility of using the LVO laser printer. However both of these are counter to BOF and IOF rules and in the main we had to follow their standards by using offset-litho printing on plain paper that entailed the maps having to be protected in map bags. When the printed maps were checked in the week before the event, a few of the Sprint ones were discovered to have suffered from a shift in the printing layers resulting in a covering of some features. Also with the loss of access to part of Slieve Croob a few days before the event, two Long Distance courses had to be re-planned. In both cases the new maps were laser printed.

The Appliance of Science

Given the number required and the BOF and IOF requirements, we had to hire control stakes from Sportident. They had to have control numbers of the correct size and colours fixed to them and then removed before being returned. The first problem was the printer delivering them in a non waterproof form that would never have lasted on a wet day. Many jolly days were spent applying the waterproof numbers and even more days on removing them.

The start lanes at the gap in the fence

To link Stranmillis and Queen’s Elms for the Sprint we had to clear the foliage, remove a fence panel, pipe and cover a drain, make a gravel path, and then to remove all evidence of our presence after the competition was over. Another major task for the civil engineering team was the erection of stiles and ladders for 41 fence crossings at Tyrella South and Slieve Croob where we were very grateful for Ivan’s construction skills.  At the latter site a walkway was constructed across a marsh to take competitors to the start, and the entrances to the parking fields were improved.

Both BOF and IOF have procedures for structuring the start lists of Elite competitors based on the concept of the most able competitor starting last, and the least able starting first. However the BOF rules specify that 18’s, 20’s, and 21’s should be seeded in one block, whereas the IOF rule states that they should be seeded in separate blocks. This conflict became evident at the beginning of January 2011 and the standoff between the BOF and IOF representatives lasted until a week before the event when the IOF Advisors insisted that the IOF rules take precedence over BOF rules.

Houston We Have a Problem

In terms of late crises, the major one was the loss of two fields in the Cratlieve section of Slieve Croob for the Day 3 competition. It was noticed on the weekend before the event that the stiles that had been erected in two fields had been removed. It took until Wednesday for Colin to find out who the correct owner was, and despite visiting “Foxy” in Kilkeel he failed with his persuasive powers to get permission to use the fields. They were apparently being used for raising ‘organic’ sheep for a particular supermarket group. The Long Distance planning team had two hectic days revising the two courses affected, and printing new maps.

The Sprint team of Stephen, Igor, and Richard McC had done a wonderful job in designing the layout of the arena that really made it a truly festival occasion with plenty of space for spectating. It was helped by the warmer than normal sunny weather that remained for the weekend. At over 1,600 it was the largest number of competitors since the JK sprint was introduced in 2006, and was the first time that an IOF World Ranking Sprint had been included in a BOF competition. Despite our early concerns about the quality of the area and its restricted size, the competitors found challenging courses that measured up to the recommended winning times. In all it set new standards for JK Sprint competitions.

The Sprint introduced us to the world of Complaints and Protests and kept the Organiser, Stephen, and Controller, Mike, busy on the Friday where the Jury had to meet on the Saturday morning to resolve two issues. The most serious Protest was a call for the complete weekend’s competitions to be voided because of competitors crossing uncrossable boundaries – not an uncommon occurrence at sprint competitions. An appeal was made for any competitors who had taken advantage of illegally crossing a barrier to disqualify themselves but only one person admitting to this. The two protests were rejected by the Jury.

Saturday saw a complete change with the Middle and Long Distance competition being held in the sandhills of Tyrella South but that brought its own organisational challenges that were well met by Colin and his organising team. Concerns had been raised about designing courses of sufficient length to meet the recommended winning times but with Wilbert’s skilful planning and the complex and physical nature of the terrain this was achieved.

Prior to the event we had anticipated that the greatest need for medical cover would be at Slieve Croob but it turned out that the Saturday competition provided the greatest need. One injured competitor had to be stretchered out of the competition area, and two required had to go by ambulance to hospitals in Belfast and Downpatrick. I met the most seriously injured competitor some months later and was very pleased to hear that she had fully recovered from what was a very serious injury. For the four days we had to make 51 medical incidence reports to British Orienteering.

Great weather on Croob. Credit Crawford Lindsay

Slieve Croob for the Long Distance competition on Day 3 was the most vulnerable to bad weather but we were blessed with a benign day, high cloud and temperate conditions that made it very pleasant for competing and spectating. The courses designed by the Planners, Bill and Greg, provided a good sight of competitors on the final descent to the finish and this resulted in a lot of cheering by the waiting spectators egged on by the commentary team.

With the loss in early 2011 of the use of a small forest due to the presence of Red Kites, and the late loss of the fields at Cratlieve, the Elite courses were slightly shorter that required with resulting shorter winning times than specified. Another factor was the unusually dry Spring that made the terrain much more runnable than normal.

Slieve Croob presented its own challenges for the Organisers, Colin, Gordon, and team dealing with the many landowners, constructing fence crossings and a route to the start, establishing and manning water stations for the Elite courses, and constructing the arena.  As usual a few Complaints were received, the greatest number involving a stile that was not marked on some course maps. Competitors on a particular course where the stile was the natural crossing point were using a much lower and incorrect stile as their attack point and as a consequence they had difficulty in finding the next control. The BOF rules do not specify that all fence crossing points should be marked on course maps and hence the Complaints were rejected.

No whistle, no go, a well-established policy in the British Isles, seemed to come as a surprise to some of the overseas and especially the Elite competitors. Anticipating some would arrive at the start without a whistle, the start team had spare ones available. Some of these competitors became rather abusive about the need to carry a whistle and some were seen discarding them shortly after the start.

On the Starting Line

The Starts on the three individual days involving such a large number of competitors, and catering for the specific start procedure for the World Ranking Events on Friday and Sunday, was a major undertaking for the start team very ably led by Raymond and Teresa. It involved a large number of helpers, many of whom were able to run, and they functioned very efficiently.

The sunny and warm weather returned for the Relay day making it perfect conditions for spectating on the open range at the southern end of Tyrella South where the start, spectator control, changeover, and finish ware all highly visible. While it was unavoidable that some of the terrain used on the Saturday was used again, Philip designed challenging courses that provided competitive running and close finishes in many classes.

An unexpected feature for some competitors was a section of their course going through a model village. Planning was a formidable task with 9 classes and 67 map variations. On the Friday, Philip, and John the Assistant Controller, spent the complete day putting maps into map bags and checking that the correct map was in the correct bag.

Considerable thought by Philip, and the organising team of Wilson, Colin, Pat, and Roxanne went into the registration process for the relay teams, and the layout of the start/changeover/finish that ensured a very smooth-running process on the day.

Relay prizegiving at Tyrella

The arena and the good weather provided the perfect setting for the relay prizegiving at the end of the Festival weekend. The prize giving at each of the competitions was extremely well organised by Stephen and Mary and ran very smoothly especially given the many classes and prizes.

A TempO competition was held at Stranmillis on the Friday, and TrailO competitions were held at Murlough National Nature Reserve on the Saturday and Castlewellan Forest Park on the Sunday. Due to the compact nature of Tyrella South, and unsuitable terrain at Slieve Croob, the two TrailO competitions had to be held at a distant site from the FootO competitions and this affected competitor numbers. The competitions meticulously planned by Alan and controlled by Stephen and Wilbert were of Alan’s normal high standard, and were well appreciated by all of the competitors.

A lot of thought went into the planning of the String Courses, and the Amazing Maze, and they proved very popular with the many who took part.

The Aftermath

Following the event we spent a few weeks sorting out and returning equipment, writing thank you letters and reports, producing a results booklet, and ensuring that our policy of leave no trace was adhered to.

We received many complimentary letters and e-mails. Unbeknown to us, British Orienteering carried out a survey of competitors’ views. This showed

  • 50% strongly agreeing and 46% agreeing that we used excellent terrain
  • 39% strongly agreeing and 50% agreeing that we provided excellent maps
  • 77% strongly agreeing and 22% agreeing that the event was very well organised.

The individual comments from the survey included

  • ‘JK 2011 will be a hard act to follow’
  • ‘Quite possibly the best ever for a festival event’
  • ‘Day 2 was some of the best UK terrain in 35 years of O’
  • ‘Very very different from the terrains used in southern France!’
  • ‘From the assembly areas, to the starts and finishes it felt very professional, everything felt like it was running smoothly’
  • ‘Excellent in all areas and a great effort for a small region’
  • ‘Total delight, putting the competitor first.  EXTREMELY friendly organisation team’
  • ‘World class organisation. Impossible to fault’
  • ‘The string course was absolutely fantastic each day for my daughter who is aged 2. Never had such exciting string courses’
  • ‘The TrailO events provided a good mix of terrain – one sand dunes, one parkland/forest’.

My strongest reflection on JK 2011 is of the tremendous achievement by the relatively small band of committed officials of staging a first class JK that set standards for future years. The work involved was certainly a lot more than we envisaged at the outset but it was well rewarded with the pleasure and satisfaction of staging a very memorable event. Some of the principal officials are named in this note but all involved deserve tremendous equal praise.

One who needs to be mentioned here is Murray, the Assistant Event Co-ordinator, who was very instrumental in all aspects of the event’s success.

JK 2011 was a very important milestone in the development of Northern Ireland Orienteering and for all those involved.

Harold White, LVO, JK 2011 Event Co-ordinator

And finally we will give the last word to our M21E winner, Hector Haines, AROS

Hector Haines on a winning run. Credit Hector Haines, AROS

Great memories of NI JK of course – my first overall victory in the M21 elite class in 2011 (aged 21)!

Both Middle and Long suited me well – the technical middle in the sand dunes was fantastic and the long race on Sunday up on the mountain was exactly what I needed to make the gap from the Middle stick. I remember feeling nervous but confident – the best feeling one can have ahead of a big race!

The JK has a big part of the domestic orienteering culture in the UK and to be able to win and be a part of that history was of course a great feeling and sense of achievement – and it functioned as a fantastic stepping stone into the future as I focussed and trained myself on World Championships!

For more information on orienteering in Northern Ireland, a great place to start is with one of our DIY Orienteering courses

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