History and Facts About Orienterring

How Orienteering Began

Orienteering began not as a sport, but as a way to find your way in unknown territory, using maps and compass. But by 1895, the Swedish and Norwegian military were holding orienteering competitions. In the next few years, a few orienteering clubs began to appear. In 1897, the Tjalve Sports Club sponsored the first known public orienteering competition. Held near Oslo, Norway, the course was 19.5 km. There were three “control points” that had to be found in a wilderness setting. The winner used map and compass to cover the course in an hour and forty-seven minutes. And with that, the sport of orienteering was born.

By 1918, the president of the Stockholm Amateur Athletic Association was looking for a way to attract more children into track-and-field events. Major Ernst Killander put together a cross-country running event that included the skills of orienteering. Each competitor had to use map and compass to choose a route from the start of the race to the finish line, including control points to find. This new event combined the skills and endurance of a runner with the mental attention needed for navigating a course. Over two hundred runners took part in the 12 km race, with a winning time of just under one and a half hours. Due to the success of this first event, Killander went on to develop a set of basic rules for the sport of competitive orienteering. These rules covered choosing a course and control points, as well as establishing age groups and other ways of organizing the competitions. Killander later became known as the Father of Orienteering.

While the orienteering clubs grew, the military was still using orienteering competitions to help train soldiers. The clubs and the military are still linked in their use and skills with orienteering. The local groups of dedicated orienteers had such extensive knowledge of local terrain that Adolf Hitler banned the clubs entirely. Hitler knew that the resistance fighters depended on the orienteers for help in moving unnoticed through the great forests of Europe. Orienteering is a skill and an art, as well as a sport.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that modern maps were introduced into the sport of orienteering. Up until that time, maps were mostly simple black-and-white drawings of the course area. These maps were crude compared to modern maps. The maps used today are full color, have contour lines to show elevations, and contain landmarks such as water and roads.

The compasses used have also evolved over the years. The original orienteers used either simple, wooden box compasses or pocket-watch-style compasses. In 1933, the Silva protractor compass came into use and provided a much more accurate tool for orienteers to use. The Silva compass style is still used today by orienteers all over the world, both for sport and by the military.

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