Did You Know…The Sport Orienteering Started In Sweden

Outdoors & Sports

Did You Know…The Sport Orienteering Started In Sweden

What started in Sweden as a 19th century military training exercise is now an internationally-recognized sport, testing the mental and physical abilities of participants.

Orienteering, a navigational sport, essentially is a fast-paced, cross-country competition. It requires an individual or team to navigate from point to point in unfamiliar and often difficult terrain. The goal is simple: Get to each point as quickly as possible before crossing the finish line.

The term orienteering originated in Sweden in 1886 at the Swedish Military Academy Karlberg and grew from land-navigation training. Although originally a competitive sport for military personnel, it became a sport played by thousands of civilians worldwide.

There are four variations of orienteering that are recognized by the International Orienteering Federation (IOF): foot orienteering, mountain bike orienteering, ski orienteering and trail orienteering. Foot orienteering is the oldest and most popular variation of the sport, requiring participants to navigate on foot while running. There are multiple variations of foot orienteering, with sprint, middle and relay being some of the most popular.

Participants, also known as orienteers, are given a specially prepared topographical map and are tasked with navigating from start to end, with the goal of visiting various control points along the way in as little time as possible. The only other navigational equipment they are allowed to use is a compass. While the shortest route might seem like the most obvious choice, it’s important to note that the fastest route may not always be the shortest.


Currently, there are about 80 countries in the International Orienteering Federation. The Swedish Orienteering Federation, one of the IOF founding members, has about 600 clubs with 83,000 members.

Orienteering has yet to be included in the Olympics for various reasons, one being that the venue of the competition is often remote. Despite not being recognized as an Olympic sport, it has been included in the World Games since 2001.

Swedish natives Jerker Lysell won gold in the men’s sprint orienteering competition in 2017, and Lina Strand won bronze in the women’s. Another Swedish winner in the 2017 World Games was Helena Jansson, who won gold in the middle orienteering competition.

Along with the World Games, spectators can watch the World Orienteering Championships, an annual orienteering event organized by the International Orienteering Federation. We can expect to see 2018 women’s gold medalist Tove Alexandersson compete in the 2019  World Orienteering Championships this month in Norway alongside other Swedish competitors. The next World Games are in Birmingham, Ala. in 2021.

Interested in testing out your navigational skills? Check out this beginner’s guide to Orienteering.

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