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Yukon orienteerers in control at westerns

As the Yukon Orienteering Association prepared to host the Western Canadian Orienteering Championships, executives selected two new maps and a third not used in years.

As the Yukon Orienteering Association prepared to host the Western Canadian Orienteering Championships, executives selected two new maps and a third not used in years.

It would level the playing field a little between Yukoners and visiting racers from across Canada, the U.S. and Scandinavia - a powerhouse in orienteering.

Despite the best efforts to remove any home-field advantage, Yukoners cleaned up, placing top-three 29 times.

Since only orienteerers from western Canada are eligible for hardware, Yukoners also collected a total of 32 medals.

Locals navigated to 10 medals in the sprint distance event in Takhini on Friday, 12 medals in the long distance at the Gunnar Nilsson-Mickey Lammers Research Forest on the North Klondike Highway Saturday, and to another 10 in the middle distance in the Long Lake area Sunday.

“We are quite pleased with how it’s gone overall with the three distances ... the attendance from overseas and across Canada,” said YOA president Afan Jones. “If they are seasoned orienteerers, they certainly admire the terrain and the courses we have to offer right in and around Whitehorse ... They realize that this really is a mecca for orienteering across Canada.”

Of the many Yukon medalists, a few captured multiple golds.

Curtis Cash won gold in all three distances, beating a pair of Calgary racers in each, in the males 12-and-under division.

Nesta Leduc, alone in the women’s 80-84 division, didn’t miss a control point and claimed gold in all three races.

Savannah Cash raced to two gold and a silver in the women’s 15-16 category.

Philippa McNeil bagged gold medals in the long and middle races for women 35-44.

Barbara Scheck won gold in the long and middle distances for women 55-64 - one of the bigger division with 15 races on Saturday.

“There are some good women from Vancouver and Calgary, so we have a bit of a rivalry going,” said Scheck. “I think I might have had a bit of an advantage today (on Sunday). I haven’t been on this map for a couple of years because we wouldn’t let people compete on it to make it fair. But I think I’m a little more confident because they aren’t used to this terrain, so they were going really slowly to make sure they knew where they were going all the time. I was probably following my compass a little more and not reading every detail.”

Yukoners also had successes in the largest and arguably the most competitive division: the elite men’s 21-34 division. After missing the podium in Friday’s sprint, Yukon’s Colin Abbott and Forest Pearson won gold and silver, respectively, in the long.

Abbott then took silver in the middle Sunday. Yukon teammate Lee Hawkings placed fourth overall but pocketed the bronze, finishing behind Toronto’s Hiroyuki Kato.

“I was really happy with how the weekend went overall,” said Abbott, 25. “I haven’t trained specifically for orienteering, but I think my fitness is good from (cross-country) ski training the last couple of years. So it’s nice to be able to hop back into orienteering and produce some good results.”

Both Abbott and Hawkings have represented Canada at multiple Junior World Orienteering Championships in the past. Before this season Abbott hadn’t competed in an official orienteering race in two years, instead focusing on skiing.

“It was nice to have confidence in my running ability and I was able to hold my focus quite well throughout the course,” said Abbott. “I didn’t find myself making sloppy mistakes towards the end because I still felt pretty sharp after an hour of running.”

Yukon’s medal count goes up by another gold and silver if you count Justine Scheck. The Whitehorse native currently lives in Calgary and is a coach for the city’s Foothills Orienteering Club.

“I had a great time; it’s been an incredible weekend of racing,” said Justine. “Really fun terrain, really fun to race on the brand new map. It’s fun being home on this terrain to race again.

“The last time I raced on (Sunday’s) map was 2004 at the nationals, so I was really excited to be back on the map.”

Other Yukon medalists include: Micah Hildes with two silver and a gold; Darren Holcombe with a gold and a silver; Elias Sagar with a gold; Gerry Willomitzer with a gold; and Kimball Forrest with a silver.

Jennifer MacKeigan, Darcy Olesen, Kimball Forrest, Lara Melnik and Bob Sagar each won bronze medals.

President Jones also picked up a couple. He won silver in the long for men 55-64 and placed second overall behind Sweden’s Svante Larsson in the sprint, taking gold as the top western Canadian.

“I really enjoyed it. It’s been three nice days,” said Larsson, who lived in Whitehorse in the early 90s. “Today (in the middle) it was quite tough orienteering. If you lose contact with the map for a few minutes, then you lose a few minutes on the control quite fast.

“Back home there are usually more competitors. But what stands out is it’s hard to find the terrain and tough orienteering like today.”

Contact Tom Patrick at