World Orienteering Championship

No Hiding Place in WOC Finals, with GPS Tracking!

Article by Clive Allen

Spectators in the event arenas and those following the action on the internet can look forward to watching the story unfold in fascinating detail at this year’s World Orienteering Championships

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(WOC). For only the second time at a WOC, competitors in the individual finals and the relay will be tracked on their routes through the forest by means of a GPS satellite positioning system.

Not only the runners’ route choices, but also their hits and misses – whether they come to a control ‘spot on’, or waste seconds or even minutes relocating after a mistake in route-finding – can be displayed in full-colour graphic detail. Nothing will be hidden from the combination of TV cameras and tracking which will be following the action!

Flexible presentation

Tracking uses GPS precison linked with presentation software which has now been developed to a remarkably high level of accuracy and flexibility. The runners’ precise positions at 15-second intervals are projected on to the competition map, with an adjustable ‘tail’ so that a part or the whole of their routes up to the points given by the latest location signals are displayed. Current position is the centre of a small circle, colour-coded to identify individual runners. The picture can be shown live on the big arena screen and on the internet, and also in edited sequences after the race.

In the relay in particular the live picture is fascinating, because it shows all the leading runners’ relative positions and the way in which the forking system splits up the bunches. And in analysis after a race, by combining the tracking picture with the times for each leg of the course obtained from the electronic punching data, one can work out precisely where and how an individual race was won and lost.

Danish company

TracTrac, a company set up by three Danish orienteers two years ago, has been contracted to provide the tracking system for WOC 2006. Because one of the company’s Directors, Chris Terkelsen, is a member of the national team and another, Jakob Ødum, is the national Team Coach, the third, Jesper Grooss will act as consultant for the WOC production.

The IOF Senior Event Advisor and the organisers of WOC in conjunction have set strict requirements for using TracTrac in order to ensure that the integrity and secrecy of the data cannot be questioned in any way. Hence for the first time the TracTrac system has been licensed to a third party, namely the WOC organisers, who will use their own servers and will be completely responsible for all aspects of running the tracking.

TracTrac is already well-known in orienteering circles from its involvement in particular with the Spring Cup in Denmark and the TioMila and Venla/Jukola relays in Sweden and Finland. It has also been utilised in adventure racing, marathons, cross-country skiing, mountain bike racing etc. and the company offers a range of “Intelligent Team-building” challenges in association with SiriusPartner, specialists in corporate events.

How it works

Competitors carry a small back-harness holding a GPS/GSM unit weighing in all about 113 gms. The unit positions itself via GPS satellite signals and transmits a signal every 15 seconds via the GSM network to the WOC computer server back at base. Here each runner’s signal is de-coded and converted into the coloured circle on the map which identifies the runner and his/her position.

Up to 60 runners in each of the finals will be carrying a live unit, with the remainder carrying a dummy unit of the same weight and shape to ensure fairness.

Bringing the story as it happens

The TracTrac output is watched closely throughout the race so as to pick out the runners with their route choices, good form or mistakes who at that moment are shaping the development of the race. At WOC, the arena display producer will be alerted whenever the tracking picks up an action of interest, and the producer will then decide how and when to intersperse this with camera shots from the forest and arena in presenting the overall story.

So in an individual race, if the runner with the fastest time at a particular control is then seen by the tracking to choose a different route than the previous fastest or to lose time finding a subsequent control, this can be displayed on the arena screen and the effect highlighted by the commentators. In the relay, TracTrac is able to give a continuous picture of the race’s progress when the leading runners are out of sight of the TV cameras and the spectators.

60 is the largest number of runners yet to be tracked by the TracTrac system and the amount of tracking data being recorded will be enormous. Hence only a tiny selection of the tracking data will be displayed at the arena and on TV. However all tracking data will be made available on the internet, so that an internet viewer can edit his own live coverage of WOC and continually follow the progress of his favourite runners.

Action replays

Each evening after a WOC final and the relay, a 45-minute programme will be transmitted on Danish TV showing the highlights of the day’s action, including appropriate TracTrac sequences.

In the WOC Tour Event Centre after the individual finals there will be a specially edited TracTrac presentation with detailed analysis of how the day’s race was won and lost. The full TracTrac sequences will also be presented subsequently on the company’s website

See a sample!

The tracking sequences from many of the events that TracTrac has previously covered can be viewed on the TracTrac website; all that is needed is Java software which can be downloaded free.

Any of the tracked runners’ complete routes can be displayed on the screen, or you can play a sequence which shows how the race evolves, for specific runners or for all the tracked runners simultaneously. You can adjust the size of the map, the speed of the sequence, and the length of ‘tail’ (the number of previous position transmissions displayed for each runner) amongst other factors. Try it, it’s fascinating!

Collaboration gets results

TracTrac works closely with its hardware supplier, Flextrack, to get optimal quality in its output. At WOC there will also be close collaboration with Filmhouse, the Swedish company contracted to produce the TV pictures along with Danish Television, and with the chief event arena producer and commentator, Per Forsberg.

The results of all their efforts should be a WOC where the critical action in the forest becomes more ‘visible’ than ever before. Everyone – those in the arenas and on the internet, and the armchair public watching TV – will really be able to understand, many for the first time, the skills required to be a World Champion in orienteering.