An Interview with Jørn Sundby, Larvik OK

11 Oct 2018 - News

I caught up with the Norwegian Jørn Sundby from Larvik OK between Stages 3&4 in the Panorama Hotel after a very fine pasta lunch.


What are you doing here I asked? Well it is school holidays in Norway, always in the beginning of October.

Last week we had lots of Norwegians too? Yes, they split this Autumn holiday into two so half of the country have it one week and the other half, the next. So we have basically been to many of these PWT Italia Orienteering races in the Autumn; Cyprus 2 years ago, Tuscany, Puglia. It is a nice vacation. So the FIVE + FIVE four or 5 times now. I can’t make MOCs in the Spring as work is too busy.

And who is here with you? My family, my partner and two kids. One is 5 and another is 1 and a half. It works well having the races and free time to go and visit other places. We also have my partner’s sister here with her partner, so 6 of us in total.

The five-year-old does the kid’s course. There are 4 adults in our group so he does it with one of us. It is quite flexible here with start times and he loves to get a prize and the prize-giving. He likes to run. He isn’t so keen in the city on the asphalt and hard ground. Today in the meadow was really nice for him but he doesn’t read the map that much, being only 5. In fact, he doesn’t really want to carry the map himself as it is extra weight to slow him down, so he tells us to carry the map for him. But he looks at the map and we show him like “We are at #1 and want to go to #2, which way?” then he can point. At 5 he is too young to fully understand the map but he gets good exercise and he feels a part of the event, and sleeps well at night.

You say your job is busy in March, can you tell us a little about it? Well I started with 10 years as a commentator for Eurosport, then 8 years with Norwegian TV2, the National commercial channel, (like TV4 in Sweden) and now from last year I am back with Eurosport again. It is all to do with rights, depending on who has what events.

And what sports are you involved in? Norwegian Football League for example and I have covered the last 3 Olympics; the last 2 for TV2 and now in PyeonChang, South Korea for Eurosport who have the rights for the next 3 Olympics. So in Winter I did the ski-jumping and the Nordic combined and in the summer I did the athletics in Rio. In 2020 it will be Tokyo so probably the athletics again. March is always busy as it is kind of the overlap between the winter and spring seasons. The winter season isn’t really finished yet with World Cups and everything, and then the football season starts in Norway mid-March. However, I have started to do a little less football as I have started to cover cycling and that starts February/March time. This year I covered the Tour de France for instance and other big and smaller races. There are quite a lot of races to cover.

If your expertise has been in football commentary for 2 decades, how has it been picking up the cycling? So the guy who had been doing the cycling commentary for the last 8 years quit last winter and they were looking for a replacement. And the football in the summer season is mainly one match a weekend, so it wasn’t really enough being on a freelance contract, as I get paid for each assignment. I had time to combine it with something else. As cycling is an endurance sport there are a lot of parallels. I have always followed cycling but not necessarily in the detail for commentary so I have had to learn more about the tactics for example. I had covered the long classic cross-country ski races before like Vasaloppet and it is similar to the long endurance cycle races with lots of time to fill during a race. So that has been a new challenge this year which I will continue with.

Do you ever see the Swedish Orienteering Commentator Per Forsberg who is also a commentator at some of these other major Sports events? Well it was funny because in Sochi we were covering some of the same events, because he was also covering the Nordic Combined, and then in Rio, Viasat, the Swedish TV company he works for which had the rights to the Olympics, had put him in the same hotel as me, and he was the first person I saw when I walked into the hotel. He was covering the Athletics there too. So we were able to sit together with an Ipad watching the WOC Sprint in Strömstad happening at the same time.

In the stadium when we were working in Rio we could wave to each other we were so close.

But now Eurosport took the Olympic rights and that is why I moved from TV2 back to Eurosport ahead of PyeongChang. So Per wasn’t there as Viasat no longer have the rights.

Do you work ‘Live’ then all of the time? Yes, almost all of the time. Most of the time when we cover the cycling I am in the studio in Oslo. Off-tube as we call it, commentating from the screens. For the Norwegian Football we are out at the stadia and for the winter sport we are mostly in the studio but for the bigger events, like the Olympics we go to the arenas.

Let’s move on to talk about your involvement with the IOF. Yes, so Björn Persson had this Sports Director role before 2014 and he was leaving this job and the IOF were looking for a replacement, but not exactly the same. They wanted to do things a bit differently, more like on a contract basis. So I took on a lot of his assignments and a big part of it was working on raising the TV element of the major events like WOC, working with Karel and his Czech production team. So 2014 in Italy was the first WOC I worked on and then 3 more. Italy had a lot of challenges, especially the Sprint in Venice. I was involved right from the start with Björn in fact from 2011.

How did the impact of the Venice City Race being cancelled midway through due to the very high tide affect WOC? Were you concerned? Well there were lots of issues with the Sprints and luckily in the summer, the risk of lots of rain and a high tide is lower than November. Nevertheless, we had plans in place to switch races around during the week as the Sprints were the first events of the week.

We had the qualifications on Burano, which was an island, and the whole thing was a logistical exercise as there were no cars in these areas, and you had to get a boat out to Burano in the morning and back afterwards for the final in the afternoon. All the TV cameras of course had to go over on this and back. I think for many of the athletes this will be a WOC to remember as it was so special. Overall it went well, although there were issues with tourists of course, and some of the athletes wore bells and carried whistles to warn the tourists and spectators.

There were also issues with the local government and municipality. The leaders changed maybe three times in the lead up to the event, which meant agreements signed before had to be torn up and new ones with the new leaders signed, hoping that they would agree to the same things.

It was interesting to note that most countries when they have WOC they want to show off their best side and nicest cities. They see it as good promotion and what was interesting for Venice is that they didn’t want to promote themselves as they have too many tourists. The Orienteering races were just a hassle for the locals.

We also tried to open some areas to generate some surprises for the runners which are normally closed to the public but in the end it didn’t happen. There were too many problems.

I remember Soren Bobach winning and the Danish Team saying they had spent days ‘dry’ training on Google Street view and with the old map. Yes, and I used to work with the Norwegian National Team as the technical guy helping the athletes prepare for WOCs, so I tried, during my WOC years, to throw in some surprises so it wasn’t like what the athletes expected. Interestingly in Venice we put a control outside of the embargoed area. Looking at the splits it showed that the leg out and the leg back into the embargoed area created more time loss than the bulk of the course. And this I think is because the athletes had not planned and trained for a leg just outside and back into the embargoed area. We also blocked a few streets near the arena, but not so much as it is very difficult to block streets in Venice. It did create some mistakes of course.

In June 2014 there was a Finnish Sprint World Cup in Imatra where they devised a highly technical labyrinth in the streets of the town. What do you think of that? Well it depends. For some people who are really good map readers but a little bit slower at running, they really enjoyed it as they felt they were on equal terms. But if the legs get so complicated that you can’t work out where the best route is, then it is too much. Part of orienteering is the ability to look at the map and find the best route.

Do you think there will come a time when it will be a secret where the Sprint will be? As these days it seems you will only win if you spend days behind a computer and that is no longer Orienteering!? I think that it is really difficult to organise. In the area where the race will be, there are quite a large number of people who need to know where the race will be. It is only a matter of time till the location is leaked. So now in the WOC rules you have to announce the location of the WOC arena in Bulletin 2, so a year before the event. This used to be what we used to spend a lot of time trying to find out when I worked for the Norwegian National Team, and the home nation has a huge advantage in this. So my mantra when working on WOC was always to have all information out in the open. This is the fairest, especially for the smaller nations who don’t have the resources. The conditions for preparation should be as equal as possible for all nations. And now we make sure the organisers put out the LIDAR data maps, automatically generated from publicly available information. In Strömstad, 2016, you could get this information for free if you were Swedish, so it would be unfair not to make this information open to all as the forest area was previously unmapped.

All teams at WOC should be on as equal terms as possible.

So after your IOF roles as Senior Event Adviser for 2014 – 2017 WOCs, what is happening now? A Swiss called Daniel Leibundgut has taken over. We did a kind of overlap in Estonia last year and he did Latvia this year and probably will do the next 3 or something like that.


And finally, what happened with your mispunch at Stage 2 in Lanciano? I was a little too cocky for a M40 runner. I came to one control site, to where I thought was the right place, and I took a little loop round the house, still no control, so I thought it wasn’t there and ran on and at the finish I said this control isn’t there. I went back to check that it wasn’t there, but I found it, and it was my mistake.

So you have blown your chance to win overall as every day counts! Yes, I am not competitive in trying to win but more I am competitive in trying to have a good race, for myself.


Thanks for your words and Good Luck with Stage 5!


Interview by Nick Barrable, Editor CompassSport Magazine & PWT Italia