Monday, November 25, 2013

Jari Turto: "By the way... This is my discipline!"

After a long pause, the Portuguese Orienteering Blog is back to interview a trail-orienteer. For this special moment, we choose a truly special person, Jari Turto, the world champion in Vuokatti this summer and one of the most prominent people in this very special discipline.

The World Trail Orienteering Championships 2013 is over. Walking on the hotel lobby, I find Jari Turto, the new World Champion in the Open Class. I congratulate him and at the same time, I make him a suggestion. Two minutes after, we seat quietly, face to face, for a pleasant conversation that will take our next half hour. A conversation that is worth remembering.

But first, time to say that Jari Turto was born in Kokemäki, in southwestern Finland, in 1961. Married, three kids - “two of them are also orienteers” -, he is partner on Modultek, a software and service solutions company founded fourteen years ago and based in Pori. “My relaxing time is only in sports”, he admits, increasing the idea that free time isn't enough for one single hobby. His figure stands out in the middle of the crowd due to his height. Contrary to what most people think, this is “a disadvantage” for trail-orienteers, he claims from the top of his nearly two meters tall, “because you can see more than the planner, for example”. This and much more to realize next.

The world title, finally, in your home country. How do you feel right now?

Jari Turto (J. T.) - The feelings are great. This was my eighth Championships, actually, I got the bronze medal in 2008 but for many times I've finished one or two points away from the podium. Now the gold medal... it feels great!

What was the secret of your victory?

J. T. - I believe I was very strong during the two days. I have to admit that I have a very good orienteering background – both as foot orienteering as mapmaker, for several years – and I've practiced trail orienteering for ten years now. But I think that the main thing is that I love contours, that is my speciality. Some of those guys from trail-o call me “Mr. Contour”, because I can understand very well the contour lines in a tridimensional way. It's very easy for me to model the terrain from the map. I was at the foot-o junior national team for five years and I can remember that, at that time, I was already very good at reading maps. Running with a map is like having a video in my hands, which is, perhaps, an advantage in trail orienteering too.

Here in Vuokatti forest, in this kind of terrain, I can imagine that you felt like a fish in the water...

J. T. - Yes, yes. I must say that this terrains are different, but perfect for trail orienteering. In general, most of the controls are placed in very small areas, but here the visibility is very good, which is perfect for trail-orienteering. You can set a control at one hundred meters of distance, for example. It's a different kind of map reading. The measure in trail orienteering is the accuracy, how fast you are at map reading. It's a skill.

You said you started ten years ago. Can you remember how everything happened?

J. T. - Actually, I started in 2004, in Fin5 Orienteering Week, a five-day-event. During the rest of the day, we decided, me and my family (my children were around ten at that time), to participate in a trail orienteering competition. In fact, due to the difference of ages, we rarely had the chance to compete so close to one another, and that was an opportunity that we couldn't miss at all. I remember asking Hannu Niemi [the National Controller of WTOC 2013], whom I knew very well, what about trail orienteering. And he told me: “Try it”! Well, I tried and, after the course, I said to Hannu: “By the way... This is my discipline.”. My first participation in a World Trail Orienteering Championship was the year after, in Japan.

How do you see the progress of the discipline? Are we improving in the right way?

J. T. - Absolutely. We have done big steps to develop the discipline, not only in the nordic countries but all over the world. What I can say about the early years is that, sometimes, the courses and control settings were more a question of lottery. Those foot orienteers that tried the discipline at that time were right when they said that trail orienteering was a matter of luck. “This is not for me”, they said. Currently, I think that we have quite a good and solid system and method to set a course in an unambiguous way.

But still, we can see a lot of complains every time, everywhere...

J. T. - Of course, it depends on the planner, but the main thing is the map. If the map isn't good, you can't set an excellent course on that. You have to change the map, update the map. This is something that we do in Finland. The planner updates the map all the time, at least around the controls.

In this development process, what should be the next steps?

J. T. - That's a very important question. I've been in a so called “development team”, with Martin Fredholm, Hannu Niemi and some other people, and one question on which we lean on was, for example, how to manage with Temp-o if we have two or three hundred competitors (because we believe that, one day, we should be hundreds of competitors in a single event). It's not possible to use the method that we have now with these numbers. The main thing that I hope we can solve very soon is the electronic punching system, in some way, either using your mobile or your tablet, with some kind of apps, whatever. We should decrease one step to organize competitions...

A new technological order in trail-o, some kind of game, is that what you mean?

J. T. - No, no, no! It is and will always be trail-o. I can tell you my future vision of trail-o, perhaps in a ten or twenty years horizon. As you know, to plan and organize a competition today requires a huge effort. To have a good competition you must have good maps, solid controls, and everything... It's a lot of work to do. I have the following vision: The planner chooses a place in the forest to set the control and, with the help of a GPS, takes precisely its coordinates. The competitor gets into the terrain with a map and some kind of laser pen and a also a GPS device. There's no flags in the terrain. The competitor has to read the map, find the correct place where the control should be and point it out with the laser pen. Then he will have his coordinates which may or may not match, with a default tolerance, with the solution. Can you imagine how easy it could be for the planner, to set a trail orienteering course in these circumstances? The problem is that someone has to develop this equipment. Maybe in 2030... (laughs)

Another question: Temp-o or Trail-o?

J. T. - Both. Absolutely. Temp-o is fantastic! I've been one of the people who have developed the temp-o concept. I like that because it's also for young people and other people who don't want to take much time solving a problem. It's a different kind of challenge where speed is very important. The sad thing is that I couldn't take part of the competition here, in Vuokatti, because in the Finnish team you have excellent temp-o performers. In this kind of terrain, I think I could have good chances, but I'm not worried about that because they win medals [Pinja Mäkinen got the first world title in temp-o].

Next year, we're going to have the European Championships in Portugal. Do you think that we'll be able to organize an event with such importance?

J. T. - Why not? Of course, currently, your experience is limited, but when you and your team organize this kind of events you learn a lot. Knowledge it's not the only thing that you need, of course, but seeing you here, it's a demonstration of your interest in doing something and doing it very well. To be together with foot-o is another important thing, you can combine things like marketing, toilets, whatever. From ETOC I expect excellent terrains for trail-o and an excellent organization. Furthermore, I'm sure that Knut Ovesen and Ola Wiksell, the Senior Event Advisers, will give you the help you need.

For how long are we going to see you doing trail-o and winning gold medals?

J. T. - I'm an old guy (laughs). I no longer see as well as five years ago and some kind of limitations will begin to appear, of course. Some guys said that I'm lower and lower but I still think that I can be faster and faster. So, be careful! (laughs)

Joaquim Margarido

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