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Whistler athletes medal in orienteering champs

Three Whistler athletes found their way to the podium last weekend in the Canadian Orienteering Championships at Savona, near the city of Kamloops.

Three Whistler athletes found their way to the podium last weekend in the Canadian Orienteering Championships at Savona, near the city of Kamloops.

Alex Kerr, who won a bronze medal at the World Masters Games in Australia last year, led the way in the Super Veteran category for athletes 65 and over, winning the gold medal by a full 20 minutes over Scott Donald of Rossland. It was Kerr’s eighth Canadian title since he took up the sport more than 20 years ago.

In the Masters category, age 35 to 39, Martin Pardoe and Adrian Zissos won silver and bronze. Suzanne Pardoe, Martin’s wife, was seventh in the Women’s Masters.

Pardoe said he was happy with his time, although he had hoped to win his age category. "It was hot, and while I was well-prepared for it, I did make a couple of mistakes that cost me the title," he said. Pardoe was the national champion in 1993, and a regular feature on the podium in regional, provincial and national competitions.

The mistakes, he said, were from losing contact with the map. "While we run around we use landforms and features to make sure we’re in the right place," he explained. "When you run for a long time or you lose concentration, you find yourself looking around and saying ‘gee, do I climb over that hill or do I go around it?’ You don’t know where you are. Sometimes it takes about ten seconds to get your bearings and some times it takes longer than that. I had a few long ones."

Physical training is important because you don’t get as tired and lose your ability to think strategically, said Pardoe. Although he has been doing a lot of training, up to 40 km of running each week as well as some cycling, he doesn’t feel he was in his best conditioning for the nationals.

Pardoe’s next event is the Bare Bones Orienteering Festival in Canmore, Alberta, a fun contest for all ages and abilities.

Marie-Catherine Bruno, a member of the national team who lives in Whistler, decided to pull out because of the heat. Last year she was found unconscious in the forest near the finish line after contracting heat stroke in the Asia-Pacific Games. Still, she had high praise for Kerr and the other Whistler athletes.

"Alex is so fast that I remember having a hard time trying to drop him in a race held in Colorado a few years ago," said Bruno. "I would like to blame it on the heat and altitude, but he simply is super fit."

For Kerr, the appeal of orienteering is being outdoors and discovering new places. Since he took up competitive orienteering, he has raced in 26 different countries, and all across Canada. He also enjoys the strategy of the sport.

"It’s a running sport where you’re so busy concentrating on where you’re trying to go, you don’t focus on where it hurts," he said.

"Actually, I find running very boring, but with orienteering it’s a constant challenge. It requires a high level of concentration. You have to plan your route very carefully, and you can’t run too hard because you won’t get enough oxygen to your brain and you’ll end up making mistakes."

Another appeal of the sport is the fact that you can do it at any age. The youngest competitor in the nationals was nine, he said, and the oldest was 75.

There were a dozen other competitors in his age group, although Kerr acknowledged that only a few of the athletes were competitive.

Although he missed the World Masters Orienteering Championships earlier this summer with an injury, Kerr is already looking forward to 2005 when the event comes to Edmonton.

"I try to get as close as I can to the world championship level," he said.

Training consists of running, most of it off-road, and entering every regional contest he can.

"I have a program that I follow, like other athletes, and even though I’m in my late 60s I do a little speed work, and hill work to get my fitness up," said Kerr. "My technical (map and compass) skills are pretty good, but I try to get out to little competitions to practice any time I can."

Kerr’s next competition is the Greater Vancouver Orienteering Club’s year-end championships, which are being held in Whistler this year on Oct. 4. The event is open to the public, and will be held in the Lost Lake area. More information will be available in the coming weeks.