Orienteering: Kiwi star seeks more perfection

By Peter Thornton

Matt Ogden dreams of the day when the sport he loves will be an Olympic success.

Matt Ogden's perfect race resulted in him becoming the first non-European to win the world junior orienteering title. Photo / Supplied
Matt Ogden's perfect race resulted in him becoming the first non-European to win the world junior orienteering title. Photo / Supplied

Matt Ogden has high hopes for his orienteering career and the growth of the sport in New Zealand.

The 20-year-old, who is in his final year of a mechanical engineering honours degree at the University of Auckland, won the junior world orienteering championship in Kosice, Slovakia last July by executing what he describes as his perfect race.

The competition was held over a week with five races - sprint, long, middle qualification and final, and a relay.

The Kiwi has been orienteering for 10 years after giving away his first love of soccer, and was the first non-European to win the junior world title.

The Bivouac Outdoor Auckland Rogaine Series begins tomorrow and we talk to one of New Zealand's finest in the sport.

How did you get into orienteering?

I started orienteering during primary school, when my mate required some runners to make up a team for the regional relay competition. I then competed semi-seriously throughout high school, with soccer being my primary sporting focus, but once I left high school I began training specifically for orienteering.

What do you enjoy about the sport?

The people and the experiences. Every orienteer has a common goal, to achieve that perfect race. It is because everyone is united under this common goal that a very positive and friendly environment is created in the sport. Orienteering also takes you to some amazing places. This year, the National Relay Championships took place on Castle Hill. How many people can say that they have run through the rocks and cliffs of one of New Zealand's iconic landmarks at full speed ? Orienteering is, in my opinion, the ultimate sport. It challenges the mind and body and every race is a new experience.

What did it mean to win the junior world title and be the first non-European to do this?

I ran my first junior world champs in 2010 in Denmark. My best result was 46th in the middle distance. For two years after that competition, I committed the majority of my life to training and orienteering. I spent countless hours running in terrain, smashing out intervals and sacrificing a lot of things I could have been doing instead. It was an emotional roller coaster, with very good and incredibly bad days. Some days I would wake up and think, "Why am I even bothering; it is impossible for a Kiwi to do really well in this sport?" But these days were few in comparison to the days where the dream of being a world champion kept on pushing me to find new limits to my body. So when the day came and the dream was realised, I could only describe it with one word: euphoria. To be a complete underdog and to prevail where so many before have not is a memory I will never forget.

Describe your performance?

A good orienteer achieves balance physically, mentally and technically. Last year on July 12, I achieved these all in one race. The result was that, I could run without fear of mistake, my technique was absolute, my control was perfect. It meant I could collapse on the finish line knowing I had given everything and I was totally satisfied with my race.

What is the standard of competition like in New Zealand?

The standard is quite strong but it is small. There is only a small number who are ever fighting for the medals at the elite level. In NZ we maybe have 50 strong men and women. This is in contrast to the European competition. In Sweden at the weekend there is a competition which has on the start list, 800 elite runners, of whom 14 are previous senior world champions. It is the depth and regularity of competition that we are seriously lacking. But this is also due to the funding and the size of orienteering in NZ. In European countries they have schools to coach orienteering, and some competitions can be as large as 20,000 competitors.

What ambition do you have for the sport?

I hope that one day everyone in New Zealand will understand what orienteering is. I hope a large majority of people will have given orienteering a go in their lives and appreciated how demanding yet enjoyable it can be. NZ sport seems to largely focus on stand-alone results, rather than positive experiences. I hope that one day we can see many more world champions in orienteering, and when it is finally accepted into the Olympics it will be a great sight to see New Zealand on the podium with an Olympic medal.

What advice do you have for newcomers to orienteering?

Orienteering is a challenging sport, but because of the amazing group of people who do it, everyone is willing to offer advice and expertise. So find your local orienteering club, then find someone in the club who you can talk to. Orienteering is a lifelong sport which enables you to see parts of the world most people never see. My advice is to get involved and the rest will be history.

What and where

Bivouac Outdoor Auckland Rogaine Series

Tomorrow: Whites Line North, Woodhill Forest
May 19: Hedley Rd, South Head, Helensville
May 26: Slater Rd, South Head, Helensville
June 9: Whites Line South, Woodhill Forest

For more information visit: www.rogaineseries.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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