JWOC 2017 -- Coach Schirm's reflections

Thoughts on JWOC 2017 from Junior National Team Coach Erin Schirm

With JWOC 2017 concluded, the big questions afterwards are:

  • how did we do?
  • what did we learn?
  • what are some steps moving forward?

Six years ago we started relatively at the bottom, with top 100 results being a big goal. From my experience a top 100 result at JWOC means that you can run a race with minimal mistakes and are knocking on the door of being competitive. A-finals were a huge reach goal and B-final was more an accomplishment. JWOC has become increasingly more competitive with more countries participating and more athletes. It’s clear the level of competition is going up in the middle ranks. The top has stayed relatively the same but the middle has gotten much better. This year there were 180 men and 150 women so to get a top 100 result on the guys’ side you have to be in the 50th percentile and on the girls’ side beat 50 other women at the world level. Over the past 5 years, top hundred has become a standard for the US team and reaching into the top 50-70 is a reachable goal for many of the athletes.

At this level of competition it’s not easy to get it right. There are a number of factors to deal with:  

  • taking care of injuries;
  • peaking at the right time, which is a big issue for US athletes because they often play multiple sports;
  • travel;
  • illness;  
  • constraints of training opportunities, especially in the US;
  • experience level.

Looking at the team with these lenses there were a number of factors going against us, but how the team responded to them shows a lot of hope for a bright future. Five of the guys on this year’s team have 2-4 more JWOCs in their future. Four of the 6 women have at least two more JWOCs. We also had some unlucky situations with injury and illness. With some of this in mind, in the middle qualification we had one A-finalist this year (top 20 in each of three heats qualify for the A-final) and a very close miss. There were a number of runners solidly in the B-final results and a few athletes in the C-final.

In the A-final Anton Salmenkyla had the best U.S. male finish ever, finishing 29th. The athletes in each final competed very well with some very nice results at the top of each final. In the sprint two guys finished in the top 80 and four girls in the top 100, with a 55th place from Julia Doubson. In the long distance there were three guys in the top 110 which is very good for the team and for the women three in the top 100. In the relay the men’s first team (Anton, David Runde, Thomas Laraia) tied their best finish ever at 18th, and the women’s first team (Julia, Tyra Christopherson, Isabel Bryant) finished in a very solid 18th. To put that in perspective, until last year top 20 in the relay was a reach goal for the U.S. team and now it is becoming a consistent outcome.

Looking at these results, there is improvement from athletes who were at JWOC last year; there were some great first time JWOC results, and some great experience gained. Despite all of this, the general feeling on the team was disappointment with results. Many of the athletes felt they could have done better, they could have trained harder. This is the biggest positive take away of the year. As a team we were not far off the best results ever and we felt we could do a lot better. This attitude, more than the results, speaks to how far we have come over the past five years when results that were previously reach goals are becoming disappointing. It shows we have progressed a long way.

I am very proud of the professionalism that all the athletes showed on every level, from their race analysis, to picking themselves up after a disappointing race, to managing their success, and working so well as a team.  It takes courage to strive for something more than yourself, and the juniors this year exemplified this striving.

With this in mind we look to JWOC 2018 in Hungary. A number of the juniors spent a week in Hungary after JWOC preparing and experiencing the terrain so we can put a plan together over the next year to show up stronger than before. As a group we need to train harder and get faster including terrain-running strength. For navigation the team has shown a very high level of ability, and the focus moving forward will be to hone the fundamentals and their application to a finer edge. It’s not always an easy path to see a future coming and be patient enough to wait for it. In the U.S. we are just getting started.

It’s going to take an effort from all of us at every level and I encourage everyone to start even with something small, a monthly training, a course setting clinic, doing a session at a school, whatever your imagination comes up with that will bring more awareness of orienteering. In our minds the steps seem huge and daunting; however, in reality, one little step in the right direction is all it takes to make huge shifts and invite that U.S. orienteering future that we all want. Let’s do it! Go USA!

posted 27 July 2017