The military exercise of orienteering was first turned into a competition in Norway in 1897. In 1918 the first Swedish orienteering event was organized by Ernst Killander and it had about 220 participants. As the popularity of orienteering grew it spread to the Soviet Union and Hungary and the number of participants in each event grew until there were over 250,000 people participating in orienteering events in Sweden alone by 1934. After World War II orienteering spread all over the world to countries such as Australia and the United States until today you have over 60 separate orienteering foundations all over the world that make up the International Orienteering Foundation also known as the IOF.
To compete in the elite levels of orienteering and orienteer must be an excellent athlete able to run not only marathon like races but also withstand the punishment of the wilderness for these long distances. The length of the orienteering course can vary and, for sanctioned competitions, they are always separated by age and/or ability. The maps will usually indicate the boundaries of the course and also the location of the control points for the competitors to follow. The orienteer is required to use the directions on the map, and only a compass, to find their way to each control point. The course on the path itself is not marked in any way and each competitor must use their own map reading, and path charting, abilities to complete the course. It is a timed event and in order to win you must cross the finish line first with all of the control point markers in your possession. Recently there have been other variations of orienteering that have been developed that include mountain biking, off road vehicles, and even a water course. Each is demanding in its own way and being an orienteer is a physically, and mentally, demanding task.
There has been a push by the IOF to make orienteering an Olympic sport. While it seems to meet the international competition requirements with hundreds of thousands of orienteer competitors worldwide, the IOF admits that the battle for the Olympics is a difficult one. Orienteering is not very television, or live audience, friendly as it happens within the confines of the wilderness. The IOF is working on more viewer friendly versions of orienteering and hopes to have orienteers in the Olympics some time in the near future.