Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Chun-Ho Ho: "A sport cannot be popular without spectators"

Today, on Portuguese Orienteering Blog, we welcome Chun-Ho Ho. Experienced Trail orienteer, he gives us a perfect idea about the current moment of this discipline, both in Hong Kong and in the World. From his first experiences with a map to the present, it's all a net of emotions that flows continuously in every answer. A long interview to read, in fact, but every word worth it!

We'll start with an easy question: Who is Chun-Ho Ho?

Chun-Ho Ho (C.-H. H.) - Well, I am Chun-Ho Ho. I am both Foot and Trail orienteer in Hong Kong. I am also IOF Trail Orienteering Athletes' Commission member. “Ho” is my surname in Chinese and “Chun-Ho” is my name with two individual words in Chinese too. Actulaly, both “Ho” are different Chinese characters and my surname spells like “Hall” in Cantonese. Although I am living in a big city, I enjoy leisure in nature during holidays. Fortunately, I was born in a place which is a mix of mountains and sea. I spent most of the time hiking and cycling, but I also did sailing, canoeing, rowing and pistol shooting in the past. Other than above, I still play football. At home, I often listen classical music.

When did you find out that your future would be as a Trail orienteer?

C.-H. H. - My first orienteering experience was at the age of 14 during a training course organized by local Boy Scouts. Then, I joined a local orienteering club, participating in several competitions and trainings. I could improve my map reading skills and orienteering technique significantly through these events. My first oversea orienteering experience was in Beijing, China, at the age of 18 and my best Foot orienteering achievement was M20 Champion in local ranking. Then, I entered a coaching course and became a registered coach for orienteering elementary course. I enjoy map interpretation rather than cross country running. I usually read the map carefully and reach the control very accurately without searching the area nearby in local orienteering competiitons. During coaching experience, I taught fresh trainees about map features and terrain recognition mostly. It might be the reason for becoming a trail orienteer.

I started Trail orienteering in 2004. At that time, there wasn't Trail orienteering competitions in Hong Kong. I went to Japan for having some expertise. Then, I organized a local Trail orienteering competition for a local club in 2006. In 2007, I got highest score in Japanese Trail Orienteering Championships, held in Nagasaki. Unfortunately, I couldn't be Japanese Champion because I'm not Japanese. In 2011, the Federation of Hong Kong started promoting Trail orienteering. I was invited to be a committee member for developing the discipline. I proposed the competition format, training course structure and team selection criteria. Nowadays, Hong Kong Trail Orienteering Championship is held every year, both in PreO and TempO.

What do you see in this discipline that makes it so special?

C.-H. H. - Trail Orienteering is suitable to everyone nearly without limits. Those who can read map can participate in Trail orienteering. I call it “Everyone's Sports” in Chinese, whose words are originated from Japanese. Both paralympic and “normal” orienteers can compete with each other in the same condition during a competition. Only few sports can have this kind of competitive environment. It was unbelievable to see the way how wheelchair competitors could compete in muddy environment with the help from volunteers in WTOC 2015. It can encourage people to care more about the society and the environment. The discipline is also suitable to promote community harmony through map reading events both indoor and outdoor, or to educate young children logical thinking about the direction, scale, map symbols and decision making, etc.

PreO or TempO?

C.-H. H. - Of course, PreO. I enjoy PreO the most. I can feel calm in the forest, relax there, leaving away the stress from the crowded noisy city and spend the time in my favorite map interpretation sport with other competitors. Sometimes, looking at other's behaviours during the competition is interesting. You may find someone very nervous, or without any face emotion during the whole race, or spending lots of investigation for one or two controls. You may get some hints from them but they may affect your decision because of their wrong precision. Usually, I got better results in TempO but TempO is not my favourite. TempO is too exciting for me. Sometimes, it happens too fast. I spent 13 seconds to finish a TempO station in WTOC 2015 with 4 controls, all correct. Actually, I didn't clearly know how I made it. Of course, I did some trainings before, trying to improve my map reading speed. I may write several hundreds words to you to explain what steps I had done in sequence for those 13 seconds. Anyway, I should be silent and keep it in secret (laughs).

What does it mean to be a Trail orienteer in Hong Kong?

C.-H. H. - Although orienteering is popular community events for fund raising here, every year, and several trail orienteering training courses were held for wheelchair persons during the last years, only few know the details about Trail orienteering. Nearly all trail orienteers in Hong Kong are actually foot orienteers. It means that trail orienteering is “an orienteering” in Hong Kong and Hong Kong trail orienteers are “running trail orienteers”. Of course, we had planned to promote trail orienteering to the public who have never participated any kind of orienteering but we are lack of resources to compete with other activities and sports.

Going back to June 2012, in Scotland, do you remember your first WTOC participation as a competitor? And what about your performances last year in Croatia?

C.-H. H. - Yes, sure. It was my first time to represent Hong Kong in the World Championships. I still remember the weather in Scotland there. WTOC 2012 was held in June. It should be summer in Hong Kong but the weather during competitions was colder than the winter in Hong Kong. Only three trail orienteering competitions were organized in Hong Kong before WTOC 2012 (2000, 2006 & April 2012). The last two competitions were organized by me. We formed an observation team with five members together and hoped to learn how to organize trail orienteering competitions for Hong Kong. I got 14th place in TempO which I had never participated this format before. I also got 15th place in PreO Day 2. Both were amazing results for Hong Kong in World Championship.

Three years later, I represented Hong Kong again. My performances weren't good in Croatia WTOC 2015 last year because of heavy work load. I didn't prepare enough for training. I got over 40th place in both PreO and TempO. In TempO, it was not lucky that I chose a wrong flag because of swapping the order of A & B flag in the last control of a TempO station. It added 30 seconds penalty and couldn't qualified to TempO Final. I got only 20 seconds more than the last qualified competitor. However, I could gain a lot of skill during WTOC 2015 which I had never used before. It can provide more accurate determination for both PreO and TempO competitions.

How do you see the evolution of Trail orienteering in the recent years?

C.-H. H. - Spectator TempO Control, Umbrella View Block and Zero Tolerance are the most important changes or evolution in trail orienteering. Spectator TempO Control provides the live broadcasting development opportunity for trail orienteering. A sport cannot be popular without spectators. Umbrella View Block was developed by ETOC 2014 from Portugal. It is totally changed the skill before entering the timing station in TempO and Timed Control. It provides more fair condition for every competitor before timing start. Although Zero Tolerance is not a formal rule, it was used in WTOC 2015 and worked perfectly. The calculation for the distance between the target and the flag provides derivation allowance due to different mapping interpretation by the competitors. It makes more clear the Zero answer by metric.

You're part of the IOF Trail Orienteering Athletes’ Commission. How do you rate your work and how important is it for TrailO's improvement?

C.-H. H. - Being an IOF Trail Orienteering Athletes' Commission (TOAC) member, I would like other trail orienteers knowing that TOAC represents athletes. Without any opinions from all trail orienteers, TOAC cannot provide suggestion to Trail Orienteering Commission from athletes' points of view. Of course, TOAC focuses in athletes' concern mainly. It is about the competition arrangement, fairness, skills and map quality, etc. It also includes many issues about paralympics because many athletes are competing in paralympic class. It is the most special part of this commission which is different than other three disciplines. After WTOC 2015, TOAC conducted a survey to collect opinions and suggestion from different national team members. I hope the work can be continued in the future so that TOAC can build up a relationship between worldwide trail orienteers and Trail Orienteering Commission.

Why is Trail orienteering a less participated discipline? Is it a question of lack of promotion, is it kind of bias (always the wrong idea that TrailO is for disabled people), what is it?

C.-H- H. - I heard so many opinions about trail orienteering participation figure and analysis in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a special city. You may know that the marketing in Hong Kong is professional. I would like to share my conclusion from the views of local orienteers here into two parts. First, about paralympic participants, it is not easy to attract their participation. Basically, the paralympic trail orienteers must have orienteering experience before. Orienteering is a sport requiring terrain recognition technique. If a newcomer paralympic trail orienteer learns from nothing, it will be too difficult for him or her to understand what is the 3D shape of contour lines. He or she is unable to walk into the terrain to find it out.

In Hong Kong, disabled athletes have many opportunities here. They have already participated many different paralympics sports including swimming, fencing, table tennis, field and tracks, etc., with excellent results compared with olympic sports. Since trail orienteering is still young and not core discipline, it is too difficult to attract them by competing with other sports. Actually in my view, trail orienteering is an excellent programme for rehabilitation. It provides the opportunities for disabled person to enjoy the nature as normal people which can improve their health. It provides the fair condition for disabled person to compete with normal people which can improve their confidence for helping them back to the society. It is unfair to determine as less participated discipline for trail orienteering. Although I believe trail orienteering is a good programme for rehabilitation, it is very difficult to provide such kind of programme in Hong Kong due to various factors including overcrowded environment, lack of competition area (i.e. many steep mountains) and insufficient financial support for continuous trail orienteering training programme. Second, about open class of trail orienteering, it should be suitable for everyone. However, there are many factors. The organizers will spend more preparation work in demanding map quality and course setting compared with foot orienteering. Elementary trail orienteers fear difficult technical setting so that they are lack of confidence and interest to the sport. Zero answer is not clearly defined causing unfair results. Classes are not enough that is unable to provide more competitive environment. In my opinion, division setting with league ranking arrangement is better for keeping number of participants. Promotion and relegation to different divisions allows continuous competitive environment. It is similar to football league. In the beginning, maximum 20 to 30 participants is enough for a division and divide 2 or 3 divisions the most.

If you had the power to decide, what would you change in Trail orienteering?

C.-H. H. - I would like to use more IT equipment for trail orienteering providing more interactive components to the sports. For TempO and Time Control, using tablet with wireless communication to result processing unit is better than current arrangement. There is no timer need, no turning maps need, and no answer recording need. Everything is processed by the tablet automatically. Live results can be seen at Event Centre to increase the popularity of the discipline. Electronic punching device for trail orienteering by chips or magnetic cards can be introduced for PreO. A switch box with buttons and chip / card slot is used for punching. Results can be downloaded by reading the chips / cards directly. Interactive components have several levels, competitors vs competitors, competitors vs spectator / internet audience. I guess processing real time results can provide elimination stages during the competition for the discipline. It will be more competitive and spectator will chase the whole competition to find out who is the best.

In the beginning of a new season, which are your main goals? It will be this year that we are going to see you taking a top 6 position at WTOC in Sweden?

C.-H. H. - I got both 1st runner up in PreO in 2014 & 2015 Hong Kong Trail Orienteering Championship continuously. Under the current selection policy for Hong Kong Trail Orienteering Team, I get good chance to be one of the team members again to participate in the upcoming WTOC. So, I have started preparation for WTOC 2016 in Sweden. I am surprised that the terrain will be very challenging. It seems impossible to take top 6 position in Sweden. However, I will try my best to get it because PreO Day 2 and Relay venue is similar to some Hong Kong's terrains in the past. I need to recall my memory for these rocky and hilly terrain of 25 years ago. I hope I can minimize the score difference between top trail orienteer to 1 point during the both days of PreO events in WTOC. It is my main goal. If I can participate in TempO, I hope I can get into the Final first.

Now that 2016 is here, I would invite you to make a wish to all orienteers around the World.

C.-H. H. - That Orienteering can be one of the Olympic sports before my retirement. It is my wish to all orienteers around the world. Of course, spectator races should be held in Olympics and welcome to worldwide orienteers joining the races together.

Joaquim Margarido

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