In the wake of Denmark's OCR European Championships 2018, everyone is wading in with an opinion on what it means for obstacle racing in the long term. Even sports anthropologists - who knew! Without further ado, let's see what our guest writer, May, has, perhaps controversially, to say about how the event may have reshaped how we think about ourselves as competitors...
As a result of the OCREC2018, high-profile OCR-personalities, athletes and organisers from all around the world, have been debating the course and its influence on the future of OCR.
According to reviews, blogs and debates amongst athletes on social media, the OCREC2018 has been proclaimed to be the best OCR event ever held in history, a world class event, a masterstroke in the world of OCR, whilst others found it disappointing; a bloodbath, with the level of difficulty on the obstacles too high and the short course completion rate a disaster.
Did the OCREC2018 go too far? Or was is it exactly what the sport needed in order to develop and improve? Was the OCREC2018 in fact, exactly what a Championship event was supposed to be?
Whether or not the OCREC2018 was a masterstroke or a disaster is a sole matter of personal taste. However, it is fair to say that they have the potential to go down in history as the most important OCR event ever held, as important discussions have arisen from it; What actually is OCR? What should/could the sport of OCR look like in the future? When will the stakeholders in the sport be ready to define what “OCR” should include? Who will head the industry over the next 5, 10 or 25 years?
Depending on whom you are asking, there are different predictions of what could happen. For the time being, it is not possible to grasp a true meaning of obstacle course racing, due to the various ways of practicing OCR. Furthermore, there is a complexity in the phenomena of OCR, as OCR is considered both a “sport for the elite” and as an “event for the masses” at the same time. This is producing opposing discourses and conflict.
Should a championship race includes thousands of athletes?
OCR is young and not officially recognised as a sport. There is no clear consensus on whether a recognition of OCR would lead to unanimous happiness as it would have very different consequences/ opportunities depending on whether you are a commercial business, a non-profit federation, athlete or a participant in OCR. Consequently, different versions of “OCR Championships” are found all over the world. Let us be bold enough to ask the question: Why are there thousands of participants or “athletes” in any OCR Championship?
Some organisers of OCR Championship events aim to make profit. Their financial business model relies on high number of participants and a high completion rate that will feed “happy customers”.
The OCR European Championships is a federation/association based Championship, which means that it is a non-profit event. The OCREC is not dependent on profit/high numbers of participants. The event is managed volunteers and can get financial support from the government. The Federation based Championship exists first and foremost to make initiatives for the sporting part of OCR (with the potential risk of excluding consumers of OCR). The average participant/athlete will, understandably, have a hard time figuring out the difference between commercial and Federation based OCR events and their various expectations.
If OCR as a sport is considered to be a “competitive bodily practice”, you can argue that an OCR championships event should only include the elite – the best of the best. If OCR is to be considered as an event (business), you can argue that it should include a large number of participants.
Instead of blaming any organisation of making a course too difficult (or easy) or accusing athletes of not training hard enough or correctly, other questions must be asked, namely “What is OCR?” Followed by “should any championship ever include thousands of athletes?"
Why was there such an “identity crisis amongst some athletes” of the OCREC2018?
There are large groups of OCR Championship participants, identify themselves as “elite athletes”, “competitive athletes” or “pro-athletes” within the field of OCR on social media. In sports psychology, most competitive people look forward to be able to be a part of a European/World Championship as competitive athletes not as a “mass athlete or amateur.” The various OCR Championships somewhat confirm that status by using the same terminology as a part of their business model.
It is fair to say that there are “high performance OCR athletes” despite amateur status in the field of OCR. It is, however, naïve to pretend that there are actually 3000 “elite/pro- athletes” in Europe. The concept of being a “pro/elite athlete” has been watered down to suit commercial OCR events. From a traditional perspective of elite sports the term “elite/pro athlete” should be distinguished from mass OCR events (which all OCR Championships are at present).
Elite sport and European/World Championships often imply the highest level of competition. This is where expectation and self-understanding as an athlete clashed at the OCREC2018 Short Course. The OCREC2018 were a high-level competition with an emphasis on technical obstacles, which most debutant athletes were not prepared for (despite the fact that OCREC focus has always been on technical upper body obstacles), because most qualifying races did not mimic that. This raises the question of whether a commercial race organiser should even be a qualifying race for an OCR Championship that has a focus on the sportive parts? Should OCR Championships with a sportive emphasis walk the line and host their own qualifying events in the future to prepare the athletes for what awaits them?
I am personally neutral on the issue of whether or not the OCREC2018 Short Course was “too difficult” or exactly what a championship race should have been, however I believe the internal crises and self-doubt expressed by some athletes of the OCREC2018 Short Course may be the result of the narratives constructed on social media and by existing championship organisers. The idea of being a pro/elite/age group athlete of a championship has worked to define identity as a true athlete, where the participant can be viewed as a hero or “OCR celebrity”, creating happy customers. From that perspective, the OCREC2018 Short Course became a “villain” that threatened some OCR athletes’ self-understanding and moreover, the commercial events business model.