An extra emphasis on training and preparing junior orienteerers in the Yukon has paid big dividends on the national stage.
Juniors, as well as adults, with the Yukon Orienteering Association have had unprecedented success at the Canadian Orienteering Championships in Ottawa over the weekend.
The Yukon crew took in a total of 27 medals, 10 more than last year and 15 more than in 2008.
Having juniors travel to more Outside meets, such as the North American Championships, Western Canadian Championships, and, once again, the Junior World Championships, helped lead to the record hardware procurement in Ottawa, said Yukon Orienteering Association head coach Brent Langbakk.
“We’re pretty excited about this one, for sure,” said Langbakk, who himself won two silver and a bronze in the men’s 35-44 category on the weekend. “We’re on an upward trajectory, it looks like.
“This year we made a more concerted effort to get more kids to Outside meets. We were able to bring larger teams to Outside events, so that’s been huge.”
Of the nine Yukon juniors who made the trip, three managed to reach the podium in all three races.
Not only did Trevor Bray, competing in the men’s 15-16 at his first national competition, take in silvers in the sprint and long events, he won gold in the middle event – one of nine first places by Yukoners.
“My middle (distance) event, in which I did win the gold, went really well,” said Bray. “I was really happy with my race. It was fun and a good experience.
“I went slow and focused on the technical part, rather than the physical part, so I didn’t make any mistakes.”
Yukon’s Kendra Murray, who won one of each medal at last year’s nationals, matched Bray’s results, with her gold coming in the long event of the women’s 17-20.
Pia Blake was consistent across the board, winning silver in all three events, two of which came while she competed up an age group in the women’s 15-16.
“Once they get to 15-16 (age group), it’s a step up from the kind of beginner level course where (the controls) are all on trails,” said Langbakk. “They start doing a lot more off the trails and it’s a lot more difficult.”
As for other junior multiple medal winners, the youngest from the territory, Leif Blake, in the boys 12-and-under group, won gold in the sprint and bronze in the middle.
Taking in a pair of bronze medals each were Kerstin Burnett in the women’s 17-20 and Lee Hawkings, who attended his third Junior World Championships last month, in the same age group for men. Colin Abbott, who also made the trip to the junior worlds, missed the podium by a spot in the sprint but grabbed gold in the long event.
“I think the one from the middle distance is the one I felt best about,” said Burnett. “My navigation was right on, which is good – it surprised me.”
A veteran of nationals, attending “quite a few,” Burnett has won more medals over the years than she can recall off the top of her head. With improved performance this summer and increased experience, Langbakk feels Burnett might soon be ready for the next level of competition.
“She has really taken big strides this season – big improvements over what she’s done in the past,” said Langbakk. “Obviously the selection has not been made, but she would be a strong candidate to go to junior worlds next year.”
“I’d really like to go if I can,” said Burnett. “There’s an application process I will go through and I’m hoping I’ll get accepted.”
Yukon’s Dahria Beatty, who won two medals at last year’s nationals, missed a control in the long and came fourth in the middle, managed to take gold in the women’s 17-20 sprint.
Jennifer Mackeigan, who is rebounding from an ankle injury that hampered her training, still managed to secure fifth in the long event, taking seventh in her other races.
Yukon’s Nesta Leduc continued her gold streak at the nationals in the women’s over-75 division, winning gold in all three races for the second year in a row. Not only was Leduc undefeated at last year’s nationals in Carberry, Manitoba, she went on to become a world champion for her age group at the World Masters Orienteering Championships in Australia last October.
Ross Burnett, in the men’s 45-54 group, was another Yukoner to medal in each race, taking in a pair of silvers and a gold in the sprint. Competing in the same division, Erik Blake had a sixth place finish in the middle while Jim Hawkings produced a 14th-place result in the long, for their best placements.
Also representing the Yukon were Sabine Schweiger in the women’s 45-54 and Karen McKenna in the women’s 55-64, both getting all top-10 results. Schweiger’s best result was a fourth place finish in the long and McKenna topped out with a sixth in the middle.
Another factor to consider, when understanding the Yukon athletes’ success in Ottawa, is the frequency of local meets and the accessibility to courses in and around Whitehorse, said Langbakk.
“It was very rocky and very technical for the middle and the long distance (events),” said Langbakk, a five-time world championships competitor. “The athletes we have here have a chance to orienteer a lot. We’re so lucky here – we have terrain and mapped areas really close to the city. So we’re able to get out and practise very frequently and that makes a huge difference.
“I think since it was so technical, that made a bigger difference than it normally does. We were well prepared and the kids had a lot of experience.”
The Yukon Orienteering Association’s upward trajectory in the medal count might very well continue at next year’s Canadian championships with locals having a home-field advantage as Whitehorse hosts the event.
“We’re really hoping to have a strong performance here in Whitehorse on home turf,” said Langbakk. “If nothing less, I think we’ll have more participation in the younger age categories.”
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