Northwest NEWS

November 29, 1999

Sports

Olson wins at Orienteering Championships

   "Most everyone in my class is at least five years younger than I am," complains 77-year-old Knut Olson, a Woodinville resident.

   Still, he beat them all at the 1999 U.S. Orienteering Championships. The Sept. 25-26 events were held in view of the Sierra Mountains near Lake Tahoe, California, at an altitude of 7,000 feet.

   "I wish my competition from the East Coast had been there," he said, "but I would have beaten them anyway."

   In the sport of orienteering, participants navigate to checkpoints in unfamiliar terrain, aided only by a topographic map and a compass. In competition, they are running against the clock. As a family recreation, it is a pleasant activity to be in nature on a nice day.

   Olson first learned about orienteering in Sweden, where he was born. "It fascinated me," he remembers. "One guy came back from the army and talked to a bunch of us about it. In those days, we had no compasses, so he taught us how to use our pocket watches and the sun--such a challenge. We started a club and were very active and won several championships in Sweden and Norway--such a friendly sport."

   He came to the U.S. in 1949, looking for adventure, and headed to Alaska with his family. At Dutch Harbor on the Aleutian Archipelago, he worked as a fisherman for almost two decades. Then, for 22 years, he ran a fish hatchery for rainbow trout in Woodinville. Although he handed it over to his daughter and son-in-law a few years ago, he's still working every day, "helping them out."

   When he came to the Seattle area, Olson found no orienteering for many years, until in 1985, he noticed a small ad in the Seattle Times. He called the number and was told that 60 was probably too old for the sport. He didn't think so, but waited for another notice until he went to an event.

   The first time out, he took a long time (and really worried the organizers), because he couldn't figure out the new colored maps at the 1:5,000 scale. His previous experience in Sweden had been with black and white maps at 1:100,000 scale. Eventually, his skill and love of challenges returned, and he's become a top challenger in his age class nationally.

   Last year, he went back to Sweden to his old club, Giantan OK, to help celebrate its 60th birthday. In the club championships, he came in third to some of those old teammates.

   Olson keeps fit by working out in an athletic club every other day; runs on the track 45-60 minutes; then goes to the gym for 20 minutes for leg and back strength work at least 3-4 times per week.

   Olson's local club is Cascade Orienteering Club. For the schedule of events, check the club website at www.pnwo.org; club hotline: 206-783-3866.