I confess that when I wrote my three piece series on the sport of OCR back in 2015 I didn't expect I would be writing a Part Four. Especially so soon. And yet, here I am.
Even just three or four weeks ago I didn't know we would be HERE.
And where is here? Well, as it turns out, a lot of work was being done, quietly, to put a bunch of pieces in to place. The first sign that something was moving was in January, when the UIPM (the International Federation for Modern Pentathlon), announced that they would be presenting a Mixed Relay obstacle version of their Laser-Run event at the UIPM World Cup #1 in Los Angeles the last week of February.
The release stated:
First, the UIPM's strategy of having the Mixed Relay included in future Olympic Games programmes starting with Tokyo 2020 was discussed at length. It was unanimously agreed that this innovative format will include Obstacle Course Racing as part of the Laser-Run discipline. This addition, with strong ties to the historical traditions of the Modern Pentathlon, will add additional value to the Modern Pentathlon event, and the Games itself, and UIPM will campaign strongly for its inclusion.
Secondly, it was reported to the board that more than 50 cities have registered for the new UIPM Laser-Run Global City Tour, which begins in Port Louis, Mauritius.
Finally, the UIPM Secretary General, Shiny Fang, briefed the board on the agreement signed with the TV network Eurosports at the beginning of January. In the context of the partnership, Modern Pentathlon will reach a broader audience with the live broadcast of the UIPM 2017 World Cup Final in Lithuania, in June, and the UIPM 2017 World Championships in Egypt, in September.
(I included more than just the mixed relay obstacle portion of the statement above because I think it is important to note that the UIPM is also expanding and promoting the Laser-Run event internationally. The Laser-Run is technically the last combined two events of the modern pentathlon, but they have been promoting it as a stand alone event due to its broad appeal and ease of implementation.)
As you can see, UIPM intends on trying to make the obstacle version of the Laser-Run a medal event in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. I don't expect the obstacles at the LA event to be too extreme by OCR standards, but if it is accepted by the IOC as a medal event, it sets the stage for bigger and better things in the future.
At the same time, Ian Adamson and others have been hard at work assembling the pieces to build the Obstacle Sports Federation (the International Federation for Obstacle Sports), along with putting in to the place the framework for the national federations, including USA Obstacle Course Racing.
Per the USA OCR website, the US National Championship will be held in Miami on April **th. The US OCR Team will be chosen from that race, and the US team will likely have the chance to compete at a PanAm competition in the fall.
The website is here: http://www.ocrausa.org/calendar.html
That escalated quickly, huh?
Rather than spend time writing about the ins and outs of all of this, what I would really like to do is comment on what I think about it all. We already have OCR media organizations out there to cover the nuts and bolts, I'm really here to provide commentary and insight. :) Of course, that's not to say that I don't find all of the ins and outs incredibly interesting (especially the chosen race format), but we can save that topic for another day.
The topic for now is "what does all of this mean?"
There is no conclusive answer, but this is why all of this excites me:
First of all, even though the Obstacle Laser Run is a Pentathlon event, if it becomes an Olympic medal event, it really opens up some possibilities for OCR, just maybe not in the way you have always imagined it.
The imagined acceptance of OCR in to the Olympics is as follows: start an international federation, start fifty national federations, come up with rules and standards and all of that, have a number of congresses and other required governance meetings, have some championships and whatnot, and then ask the IOC if you can be in the Olympics.
And the IOC says "Uuummmm, we recognize you as an official sport now that you've done all of that, but no, you can't be in the Olympics."
Because let's face it, there are a lot of officially recognized sports that aren't in the Olympics. While it is true that a few of them have been "fast tracked" to meet the IOC's interest in new and innovative sports that attract younger audiences (like surfing), in general, the process is extremely long.
But enter Modern Pentathlon, which has been in the Olympics since 1912. They approach the IOC and say "Check out our cool Laser Run event. It's already a part of the Pentathlon, but we have been building support for it all over the world and now we added some obstacles in it to make it even cooler." What will the IOC say? Well, we will have an idea after the Los Angeles event.
If it makes it all of the way through the voting (in July or September) and becomes a medal event in 2020, it puts the obstacle "genre" formally in front of many more people. And perhaps more importantly, it draws a whole new pool of athletes who aspire to make it to the Olympics.
But that by itself isn't the big deal.
We also have the (virtually simultaneous) formation of international and national federations for OCR. We have competition rules and obstacle standards and race formats. We have races and championships that occur outside of any particular OCR brand. We have inclusion. We have, well, an actual sport. (And yes, in many cases, we have spectators.)
Of course, many people won't really care for this. Hell, some of the top racers in OCR today won't care for it. Primarily because (and I've spelled all of this out in my previous articles), as of now, "OCR" has come to mean longer, technical mountain races. If you are a strong mountain/ultra runner, you are loving how things are currently.
And I wouldn't expect this version of OCR to go away. Or, at least I don't think it should go away. As both a "sport" and as a recreational activity, hundreds of thousands of people love the grind of long Spartan Races and Tough Mudders. It is clearly fulfilling a need/desire. But that is just one version of OCR.
There are many other groups of athletes who have been waiting for a version of OCR that matches their interest and skill set. I know a number of track athletes and ninja warriors who have been very hesitant to go do a 2-4 hour Spartan Race, but they might jump right in to an all out 3200 meter track-based sprint obstacle race, or a 3k-5k cross country style obstacle race.
The more interest people show, the more variety we may end up with. And hasn't that always been one of the stated goals of Spartan? To not just serve as a sport but to get people off the couch? To be a lifestyle? Well, to do that you have to meet the needs of many different types of people, not just the ones who can fit in to the mold of what Spartan has created (which is pretty great, by the way, just not totally inclusive).
I see this all as a one-two punch. And one that can inject some new blood and vitality in to OCR. How the punches land, and what effect they will have, remains to be seen. But I am hopeful that we are really just now beginning to see all that "obstacle course racing" entails. The current OCR race formats plus an Olympic Games event plus a cross country "sport" format plus continued growth in shows like America Ninja Warrior begin to paint a broader stroke, both in potential participation and in commercial appeal.
It will be an interesting year.