South Karelia becomes the centre of Finland this weekend, as one of the world’s greatest relay orienteering events, Jukola, gathers over 17,500 participants and over 30,000 orienteering fans to the town of Lappeenranta on 18-19 June. Traditional Jukola is a wonderful, exotic experience in the midnight sun. No wonder it brings the world’s best orienteers and enthusiasts to Finland every year.
The Jukola relay is one of the greatest competitions of relay orienteering in the world. Although orienteering is traditionally a Scandinavian sport, the proportion of international participants has grown steadily, and lately it has been approximately one fifth. This year, over 17,500 orienteers represent 25 different nationalities in the event, the furthest orienteers coming all the way from China and Hong Kong.
The first Jukola relay was organized in 1949. Since then, the event has been organized every year in different sites around Finland. The unique orienteering relay event is composed of two relays: the Jukola relay for teams of 7 men (or men and women), and the Venla relay for teams of 4 women.
A gorgeous atmosphere crowns the scene
For orienteers, the Jukola relay is an Event with a capital E – midsummer and Christmas combined. Thousands of orienteers run in the beautiful forests under the midnight sun, as the unique spirit of the competition climaxes.
Although the high quality relay joins all the best orienteers and clubs in the world, the majority of the teams are not participating in order to win. For many firm teams, hobby teams and family teams, it’s about the atmosphere and having fun. The proportion of teams not representing any official clubs is already 20 percent and it is growing.
This year, the competition centre will gather a crowd of over 30,000 people in Lappeenranta. Among them, one can distinguish orienteers, trainers, media, members of families and the audience. As always, thousands of tents and caravans will fill the surroundings of the competition centre.
Orienteering all through the night
The female Venla relay takes place on Saturday at 2 pm. The distances of the four legs are 7–9 kilometres. Jukola relay starts in the evening at 11 pm. In the Jukola male relay, the distances of the seven legs vary from 8 to 16 km.
The sun will set at 10:47 pm and rise at 3:30 am, so some legs will be run in the dusky forests using headlights. The winning team will cross the finishing line early on Sunday morning, and the last teams will come to finish just before the finish is closed at 2 pm.
Photo: Petri Jauhiainen