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Two Yukoners named to national orienteering team

With just nine athletes comprising Canada's orienteering team, it may raise a few eyebrows that two are from Whitehorse. However, for those who have navigated through the brush and over the hills in the territory,

With just nine athletes comprising Canada’s orienteering team, it may raise a few eyebrows that two are from Whitehorse. However, for those who have navigated through the brush and over the hills in the territory, it’s not much of a surprise.

“Whitehorse is one of the best places in Canada for orienteering,” said Lee Hawkings, one of the two selected juniors from Whitehorse. “There are so many maps so close to town É It’s a good place to train and we’ve got so many national team members and former national team members that add a lot to the coaching.”

As team members, Hawkings and fellow Yukoner Colin Abbott will be representing Canada in July at the 2009 Junior World Orienteering Championships in Primiero, Italy.

“I think it says a lot about our club here,” said Yukon Orienteering Association coach Brent Langbakk. “Both Colin and Lee have come up through the junior program that we have here.

“They’re really good athletes and are able to move through the forest really quickly - combine that with the cool head, the ability to interpret the contours and the concentration that comes with the map reading.”

Both earned their spot on the national team by competing at the World’s last year in Sweden, with middle-of-the-pack results, and other major North American events.

“The competition was pretty stiff and orienteering is still a small sport in Canada,” said Hawkings of last year’s World’s. “So we’re not at the level of many European countries. So we did decent for Canadians, but it’s just a whole other level over there and it’s going to take a few years to get up to that level.”

Competing in the North American Championships in upstate New York over the summer, Hawkings took a bronze in a sprint event and fourth in the middle-distance race, but ran into some difficulties in the long-distance event.

“I was winning the long until I had a bit of a disastrous leg and ended up sixth,” said Hawkings. “I got lost for a few minutes and then it was all over.”

While studying at Carleton University in Ottawa, Abbott was the top junior at the Eastern Canadian Championships, placing seventh (first for juniors) in the middle-distance and the long-distance races. He also finished 11th (second for juniors) in the sprint.

“It’s going to be cool; we’re going to be racing in alpine terrain, so it’ll be a new thing for us,” said Hawkings. “We’ve got lots of hills here, but we’re going to be in the mountains (in Italy).”

Langbakk, a five-time national team member at the World Championships, recently became one of more than 70 national level athletes from across the country to sign a letter to the Vancouver Olympic Committee asking to make the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games carbon neutral.

“Traveling all over the world to race, it’s obviously part of competing for Canada, but it’s really difficult to balance this with your environmental conscience when flying uses so much fuel,” said Langbakk. “We can’t replace flying and it’s not like any of the national team members are going to stop competing for Canada, but this is a way that we could at least bring a bit of attention to the (topic) and set a positive example.”

The letter originates from an environmentalist group called the Play It Cool Program, an offshoot of the David Suzuki Foundation. Langbakk points out that the last World Cup in soccer was carbon neutral and that the cost of making the Games carbon neutral is estimated at 0.3 per cent of the Games’ total budget.

“(The Vancouver Organizing Committee) actually set making these Games environmentally friendly as a priority way back in their bid and have maintained that they’re going to be green,” said Langbakk. “So this is just to encourage them to take that step.”

To learn more or to sign a public letter, visit

Contact Tom Patrick at