CONTROLLING for ELITE TRAIL-O

There are very many similarities between elite event controlling in Foot Orienteering and Trail Orienteering.

In each discipline the Controller's duty is to act on behalf of the competitors to guarantee, as far as is reasonable and practical, that the competition is equally fair and testing to all contestants.

An equally obvious similarity which is demanded of controllers in both disciplines is familiarity with the Rules and Guidelines and the ability to apply them wisely.

However, there are important differences in the controlling. Much more attention has to be given to the quality of the terrain and the conditions of the tracks (trails).

The Controller has to ask two questions.

Is the terrain suitable for Elite Trail Orienteering?

The key to elite Foot-O is high quality terrain; terrain that is detailed, complex, interesting, subtle, a pleasure to be in and to run through.

The key to elite Trail-O is high quality terrain; terrain that is detailed, complex, interesting, subtle, a pleasure to be in. There is no running through the terrain.

The best terrain is that with complex ground and contour detail demanding skills of map interpretation in three dimensions. The presence of rock, water and vegetation features adds variety and further interest.

Man-made features can play a part in elite Trail-O but are generally of secondary value, the best competition being based upon complex natural detail.

Judging from an existing Foot-O map whether terrain is suitable is difficult because the Trail-O competition uses detail which is usually too fine to be shown at the Foot-O map scale. The terrain must be visited to determine whether there are enough potential sites of elite standard to support the competition.

Can a wheelchair competitor get round the course?

"The course must be accessible to the least mobile......" ( Old Rule 6)

"......the least mobile competitors, the person confined to and propelling a low fixed wheelchair and the person who walks slowly and with difficulty, can negotiate the course within the maximum time limit" (Draft new Rule 14.1; Guideline 3)

The wheelchair competitors need firm surfaces and room to turn. This last point is very important as elite competition often requires the competitors to sight the problem from different positions before making a decision at the viewing point.
The long low wheelchairs need more room to turn.

The firmness of the surface has to be carefully considered so that competitors can get round the course and without getting excessively muddy. It may be appropriate for the Controller to ask for sections of the tracks to be repaired.

The gradients of the course may be critical.

"Maximum slope for unassisted wheelchairs is 14% for no more than 20m. The cross slope should be no more than 8%." (Old Guideline 6.1.6; new Guideline 3.1)

This guideline may not be as useful than it first appears because most people, including controllers, cannot estimate slopes with any accuracy. Unless experienced in these matters Controllers are advised to seek the advice of those with practical knowledge of wheelchairs negotiating surfaces and slopes.

Difficult sections need physical assistance from helpers provided by the Organiser.

If the two questions about terrain quality and wheelchair access can be satisfactorily answered, then you have an elite event in the making. But this requires different procedures from Foot-O in the way the event is administered.

The information flow in elite Trail-O

The structure of the mapping, planning and organising processes, and their relation with the controlling function, are shown in the diagram 'Elite Controlling Information Flow'. (Diagram not available yet).

There are important differences between Foot-O and Trail-O.

For Foot-O the mapping, planning and organising are largely separate functions. The Mapper makes the map and the Planner uses it. Map corrections may be fed back to the Mapper. The Organiser needs to know where the Start, Finish and drink stations are located. There is much more communication between the Planner and the Controller arising from scrutiny of the courses and selection of the control sites.

All this is well understood.

Elite Trail-O controlling is rather different. The Mapping and Planning are highly integrated. The Planner cannot produce an elite course without the specially prepared map and the Mapper cannot produce the map without the detailed intentions of the Planner. Closely involved in this is the Controller.

Such is the degree of integration required that:

The mapping, planning and controlling is best carried out on site at the same time.

Note also that there is increased communication with the Organiser, arising from more in- forest involvement (pushers, timed control manning, etc.)

Problem Construction

No tricks

It is important at elite level to set problems that are testing but fair. Such problems should be considered elegant.

Trick questions have no place at this level of competition.

An example of a trick question is to have a marker flag at the correct site at the centre of the circle on the map, but there is a mistake in the description.

Balance of probability

Problems may have a method of solution which yields an answer with 100% certainty but the test arises because that method is not instantly obvious.

Other problems may not be soluble to 100% certainty without making the problem too easy. In such cases it is permissible to have some uncertainty present. For example, first analysis may show that two solutions appear to be correct. For fairness the correct solution must be significantly more likely to be correct than the alternative, a ratio of 67% to 33% certainty, or better.

All flags to count

Avoid placing marker flags simply to make up numbers. Each flag should be positioned so that it has some definite connection with the control description. The best incorrect flags are those which are right in several respects but wrong in one.

Zero answers

The zero answer, no marker flag at the centre of the control circle on the map, is a feature of elite trail orienteering. Its use adds an extra dimension to control problem setting but also introduces increased difficulties with marker flag placement. This is because a minor misplacement, real or imagined, of the correct marker could be interpreted as a zero answer.

The solution is to ensure that zero answer problems are very clear with definite features unmarked, and to confirm to the competitors that this is the principle in use.

Zero answer problems should not be overused, perhaps up to three per course.

Compass bearings

A requirement to use a compass as a precise instrument must be avoided. Otherwise competitors with surveying compasses would have an unfair advantage. Additionally, such precision would make it very difficult to map and use an area without excessive controversy.

In general the compass should not be required, most problems being based on terrain recognition.

For some control sites the use of the compass may be needed provided...

Bearing estimation should not be required to better than 5 degrees.

Distance estimation

A requirement for over-accurate distance estimation is unfair. In general the accuracy expected in problems where estimation of distance is required should be...

Distance estimation should not be required to better than 25%

For example, for a marker at 40m, an estimate in the range 30-50m should be allowed for.

Viewing Window

It has been said by some that the viewing point is precisely the point at the top of the viewing point stake. Problems have been set where just a small lateral movement away from this point produces a change in the order of the markers. This is not good competition.

It is not good competition because it is over-precise. It is not good because neither the viewing point stake nor the marker flags are usually that rigidly fixed that they can never move about somewhat.

It is good practice for the marker flags and viewing point to be so positioned that a lateral movement by the observer 0.5m either side of the viewing point does not change the answer.

It is also good practice to check that standing competitors do not get significantly improved visibility over low wheelchair users sufficient to give them an unfair advantage. In practice this means checking that the problem appears essentially the same from a height of about 0.75m to about 1.75m.

Therefore, we have a viewing window 1m square rather than a viewing point.

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