I’ve just got back from Sicily, where I was taking part in the Mediterranean Orienteering Championships. The three-stage event, consisting of two sprint races and a middle-distance race, was organised by Park World Tour Italia. Highlights of the trip were the spectacular event locations, particularly the finish arenas, and the passion and enthusiasm of the organisers. Sicily in late March is very pleasant – sunny and warm but not too hot. The locals were wrapped up well but the Scandinavians and Brits at the event were only too happy to enjoy the lovely conditions.

Day 1 was a sprint race around the historic old centre of Sciacca, on the south coast of Sicily. The area was steep, with many staircases and narrow, winding streets. Police kept cars out of the area for the duration of the race, although runners still had to dodge many moped riders. The finish arena, in a historic plaza surrounded by palm trees and curious locals, was further enhanced by the appearance of many dancers, wearing hats with three legs coming out of them (the Scilian coat-of-arms) who not only danced to the various Europop-esque tunes, but also cheered in each finisher. The costumes and performers were from a more general parade a few days before.

I didn’t have a great race – I loved the map and the city (once we got there – Nick Manfredi having driven us 100km in the wrong direction!), but I went a bit too fast and made a silly 90-degree mistake around half-way through the race, running off the map and wasting four minutes trying to get back on the course. Four minutes for a 20-minute sprint race is pretty disastrous, so I finished comfortably in the bottom quarter.

Day 2 was another sprint, this time in and around the ruined village of Gibellina. The village destroyed in an earthquake in 1968 and the central part of it has been turned into a giant concrete memorial, with the road network preserved but the housing outlines replaced by 1m high concrete walls. An area of terraces (i.e lots of tricky and dangerous one-side walls) and the housing rubble of another part of the village were also used.

I didn’t make any big errors this time, but was a bit slow around the course – I just didn’t have the sprint pace. Afterwards we had a look around the new Gibellina town, built to replace the village and full of modern art. Kind of like Milton Keynes but with more of an emphasis on public art and less on roundabouts…

Finally, there was a middle distance race around the ruined Greek temples of Selinunte. We could see the finish arena being constructed on the village pier, from our hotel breakfast room overlooking the Mediterranean. The race itself included quite a bit of dune running, as well as a spectacular section in one of the temple complexes. Unfortunately, on leaving the complex I slipped and fell at speed onto one of the temple blocks – I was able to run to the end, but it looks like I’ve managed to break one of my ribs – so no running for a few weeks. Luckily this was on the final day so didn’t spoil an amazing orienteering weekend and unexpected holiday.

Congratulations to Sarah Rollins who finished second in a very competitive field of Swedish world-championship orienteers and other internationals, so winning a EUR400 cash prize.

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