The next course planner we have bombarded with questions is Jan Flašar (SK Praga Praha) who is the course planner of the knock-out sprint race - a discipline which is still a bit unknown.
Hi Jan, it is you who was honoured to plan the courses for the very first knock-out sprint race at a top international orienteering event (not counting those few individual attempts in the past, such in 2013), how did that even happen, when and who did address you and when did you decide to go for it?
It was around the end of the year 2016 when I took part at the meeting of the future organizers of WC 2018, just as an alternate for Jan Procházka (note - former Czech team runner and member of the same club as Jan Flašar), therefore more or less by accident. After some time I was addressed by David Aleš (WC 2018 event director) with an offer of two positions from which I could choose one. One of them involved some physical work, so it was clear, that I chose more or less immediately the other one - the course planning.
So far, there have been really just a few races of this discipline, did you let yourself inspire by some of them or did you work only with your own ideas and experiences with other sprint disciplines in the barriers of rules set by IOF?
The most of those few races organized so far were held in a truly urban terrains and for some of them the tracks' forking of farsta type was used. However I took my own way considering our terrain in the park Stromovka and in the Prague Exhibition Grounds (Výstaviště Praha) and considering the decision of the IOF not to support the farsta forking type.
To which extent the course planning and the race itself is determined by the rules set by the IOF and what could we specify by ourselves?
The IOF rules for this discipline aren't in some parts still complete and anchored. I've already mentioned the forking method which can be accomplished by many ways – butterflies, the self-choice method or not to fork the track at all. So we had an option of choice in this. On the other hand some issues are precisely determined by the IOF rules, such the schedule, the way of dividing the competitors into the heats, the length of the tracks etc.. Nevertheless I expect that the IOF will determine binding rules for everything after this race, which still is a trial actually.
Could you please describe us briefly and clearly the course of the race, not only it is a new discipline, but its course is composed of quite a lot of acts.
The race is composed of four heats: qualification race, quarterfinal, semifinal and a final. It begins in the morning with a qualification race which is in the format of a classic sprint with an interval start, just a bit shorter. The fastest 36 competitors will proceed to the quaterfinal race in which they will be divided into 6 heats with a mass start. The tracks will be forked (as well as for the semifinal and final). The first three runners from each heat will proceed to the afternoon semifinal race. Result times of particular heats won't matter, there will be no lucky loosers as they are in athletic or cross-country skiing competitions. There will be 3 heats with 6 runners in each in the semifinal race (again with a mass start). Two runners from each heat will proceed into the final race. The final race is only for the best six runners, there will be no small final race. The women and men competition is of course divided.
This discipline is nowadays more rejected than welcomed. It's been perceived as a novelty decaying orienteering running, a novelty which has been enforced by a need to come up with a new sprint discipline for divided championships. How do you perceive it?
I think I will be regarded as a heretic by a certain part of an orienteering population but I like this discipline. I think that once the championships were divided, this is the best option. I even watched KO-sprint in TV holding a bottle of beer in my hand when it was first tried during the WC in Stockholm in the year 2010. The track weren't forked yet, but I still enjoyed it. After that in a verve of inspiration I organized a KO-sprint at the South Bohemian winter league. So I guess that even in the past I was a supporter, a promoter and a pioneer of strange diciplines. :-) I've heard some opinions that it is only about a physical performance, not maping, all is decided in the finish corridor and that the Czech Republic should nominate Jakub Holuša (note - an athlete who competes at 800 m and 1500 m and sometimes tries an orienteering race). I think in the contrary that KO-sprint requires (with a reasonable forking of tracks of course) an extensive measure of the independence while planning route choices and instant decision making. In fact this makes KO-sprint quite similar to the sprint relay, which was also rejected in the beginning but today it is quite popular, at least I think so. In my opinion the newly suggested forest pursuit race downsizes the orienteering part of competitor's performance much more than the KO-sprint.
When did you start to plan the course?
I started very slowly at the beginning of the year 2017, when the concepts of all the courses were being specified as the time went on.
I rather shall not ask you about the moment of the course planning being completely finished, considering that the construction work at the Exhibition Grounds are not over yet. I presume that it means that you cannot exclude some last-time changes? How much has the space changed during the time of preparation?
A lot. It is quite ironic that the area of the race started to change right in the middle of the course planning considering that these changes are the most intensive ones in the past 20 years.
The course will be held in a very interesting areas – the sport centre Olymp and an architectonical mess of the Exhibiton Grounds. You surely know something interesting about these places, could you please zoom us into their history, purpose and function?
The Prague Exhibition Grounds was built for the General Land Centennial Exhibition held in the year 1891. The Industrial Palace and a lot of other pavilions which did not survive to these days were built for the needs of the Exhibition in that time, even also the Petřín Lookout Tower and the Petřín funicular were built for the Exhibiton – the main attributes of the sprint relay area. A lot of the technical miracles were built thanks to an inventor František Křižík – he designed a fountain with light effects, a tram line and he iluminated everything with his own invention – an arc lamp.
The sport centre Olymp (where will be our morning arena) was built in the 50's of the 20th century. More or less from the beginning it was a home for the sport organization of the Ministry of the Interior which was called the Red Star. It was renamed as the Centre of sport of the Ministry of the Interior - Olymp after the year 1989 (note – the year, when communistic era ended in the country). Nowadays this organization secures trainings of representatives in a lot of sports – from athletics to biathlon or box. Orienteering isn't amongst them, at least for now...
Inbetween both of arenas (the Exhibition Grounds and the Olymp) there is a park Stromovka known also as the Royal Game Reserve. As the name presumes the park was originally meant to be a place for Czech kings' hunting pleasures. The game reserve was slowly changing into a park as we know it nowadays, finally it was opened to the public in the year 1804. An interesting fact is that there are two tunnels underneath the Stromovka. The first one is the Rudolph's Stole which brought water from Vltava river to fishing ponds in the Stromovka and which was built in 1584 – 1593 period. The second tunnel is Blanka, part of Prague City Motorway Circuit, infamously popular in the Czech Republic for the costs of construction. Eventhough it was built in the 21st century the construction took only one year less than in the case of Rudolph's tunnel and it was four times more expensive (eventhough the 16th century constructors didn't know yet the New Austrian tunneling method).
How many times did you visit the Matějská pouť during course-planning works? (note – traditional annual festivity taking place in the Exhibition area, could be translated as Matthew's pilgrimage)
I have to tell that not even once. Nevertheless I began to acquaint with the course area 30 years ago, including the Matějská or the legendary Sputnik playground in the Stromovka park. Then I forgot a lot of stuff about this area while living in the South Bohemia so I had to catch up a lot during a frequent rides on Rekola bicycles in the course area.
Do you know who set the Industrial Palace on fire ten years ago? (note – it is the dominant and the most valuable buildng of the Exhibition Grounds, fire caught part of it then)
I suspect the same man who set the National Theatre on fire!
Interview by Petr Kadeřávek
(translation by Martina Valešová)