Sunday, July 30, 2006

WOC+2: Long Distance Qualification

After a hot day spectating and competing in the Danish sunshine we can now start to answer those important questions that all spectators need to ask. Nobody has gone for a really outlandish new O-suit this year, and the new British kit is a subtle red, white and blue that seems to look better in photos than it does in real life. The Norwegians are still running round in kit that looks like it has been washed too often, and at least some of the Swedes have thrown away the sleeves of their O-tops along with the rule book that says they should have them. Enough on the fashion report.

Second important question is what is the terrain like. My WOC Tour M40 course of 7.8km took 84 minutes, which sounds pretty awful until you factor in 430m climb (that the Danes cunningly avoid bothering to mention). I could say it's like Cannock Chase or the Chilterns or Bury Walls or Mytchett but the thing it is most like is of course Denmark. Pleasant enough in most places, but with some truly horrid walk (I didn't risk the fight) and relentless short sharp climbs. Vegetation turned out to be better than I'd feared, with a fair amount of quite low bracken, and some stinging nettles hiding to keep you awake when you ran into them by accident.

As for the WOC Long Qualifier it was basically more of the same. All the big names got round safely, with the superstars making it look easy. Simone, Thierry (the only two who qualify as first names only), Nordberg, Lakanen, Novikov and Jukkola all cruised in. The Brits had a standard mix of solid (Jamie Stevenson, Jon Duncan, Alison O'Neill and Rachael Elder), nail-biting (Jenny Whitehead qualifying by two seconds in 15th place) and huge disappointment (Oli Johnson controversially disqualified for mispunching). Performance of the day must go to the Chinese girl Mingyue Zhu who qualified for the final in 15th place: time to start getting worried about the emergence of a new orienteering superpower?

And now those poor elite runners are so tired they need a day off, so that's it until Tuesday for them. Seems a strange timetable, but at least us also-rans are made of sterner stuff and have a race tomorrow. Then there's time to speculate on who might win what on the form we have seen. It still looks to me like things are going to be very close. All 45 men's middle race finalists finished withing 4 minutes of the leader in the qualifier, and the spread today was only 10 minutes. Perhaps that's why we seem to have reverted to results in 10ths of seconds. So roll on the Sprint Qualifier on Tuesday morning, just in time for some people to have their last run at WOC before the opening ceremony and sprint final on Tuesday afternoon.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

WOC+1: Here we go

Two days of silence whilst we were traveling avoided the problem of getting to WOC-0, since I clearly miscalculated two weeks ago.

Anyway, the day on the ferry to Esbjerg was fine, and we spent the evening in a pleasant log cabin with swimming lake right next to it.

The following morning the weather broke for real, and we had torrential rain and thunder and lightning for two hours. After debating the options we pressed on and spent the day at Legoland, which turned out to be not too bad. There was only one surreal ride on a boat round famous locations in the pouring rain, but otherwise the sun returned for the assortment of trains, boats, fire engines and various other rides I was forced to go on.

Got to the WOC camp site in Arhus later in the evening to find it was not quite what we had hoped, lacking in nearly all facilities other than a flat grass field. We shall see how long we last here.

And then WOC Day 1, as things started with the Middle Race Qualifier. As a seasoned WOC Spectator this was one not to miss, but the rest of the family convinced me that the beach was a better bet. We even found a Viking Festival going on, complete with several hundred Vikings and horses acting out a pitched battle, plus a huge area of tents selling all sorts of Viking things (honestly).

On the results front it seems that the Brits did pretty well without me, with all six making it to the final. WOC for real tomorrow as we'll be at the Long Qualifier before starting Day 1 of the WOC Tour.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

WOC-2: Looking East from Down Under

WOC 2005 was in Japan, so just for a change I decided to spectate from Australia. I spent the summer working in Sydney, and therefore ended up catching some of the races over a wireless link to my laptop sitting in various cafes in central Sydney. Technology at my end had certainly moved on, even if the internet coverage was still confined to split times and results.

This time it was Heather Monro we were all yelling for. She'd taken a medal at the World Games, in Germany, and this was going to be her last WOC. Could she finally get it all together on the big day? Of course she could: bronze in the sprint race and she became the third Britain, after Yvette and Jamie, to take an individual World Championship medal. Elsewhere it was Simone and Thierry showing how it should be done. Simone did the impossible again, taking all four gold medals. Thierry only won the middle race (and nearly the relay) but that did mean he'd won three World Championships in a row.

So that's all there is from my personal history of spectating at WOC. This afternoon we set off for Harwich to get the ferry to Esbjerg. On Friday we're going to Legoland (since it's on the way to Arhus, honest). All that's left to do before we go is to pick my own WOC team in the O-Manager game? Do I pick the Brits and hope they do well? Can I resist picking Simone (or can I even afford her)? Will the Swiss, Finns, Norwegians and Swedes dominate, or will the French, Brits, Russians, Czechs and Australians have a good week. How good are the Danes on home terrain? Will it really be as hot and sunny as the weather forecast says? We'll soon find out.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

WOC-3: Return to Sweden

WOC 2004 was in Sweden, just one year after Switzerland. The IOF had decided that more World Championships was what the sport needed. As I spectator I wasn't sure this was true, and it made it easier not going to Switzerland since I knew I couldn't possibly keep going every year. The new format it is beginning to grow on me and I guess I've at least moved to being neutral now. Not sure about some of the runners though.

This was therefore another chance to test the remote spectating facilities of the internet. The main thing I remember is that they put the maps up during the race so you could see the course people were running and get an idea about the critical legs. As far as results went for the Brits this was another year of not bad but not great results. To be honest I can't remember getting particularaly excited at any point, other than possibly trying to work out how Simone had lost so much time early in the classic race.

So a bit of a non-event altogether. Perhaps you had to be there.

Monday, July 24, 2006

WOC-4: Jamie Stevenson World Champion TM

The sequence was never going to go on for ever, so I didn't make it to WOC 2003 in Switzerland. Instead I had to settle for sitting at home with an internet connection to find out what sort of facilities the Swiss had managed to provide. Luckily I have a job where I can work from home occasionally, so I managed to arrange to be in for the main races. 

The strange thing about Switzerland is that we probably didn’t have particularly high expectations. Heather and Jamie were clearly in with a chance, but after Finland the thought of medals had receded. I don’t remember exactly what facilities were provided on the internet, and this is an area where things have changed quite a lot recently. I certainly remember listening to the audio feed from the commentary team, and I think there were real-time results from the finish and probably some intermediate controls. What I do remember is realising that Jamie was on a flyer half way through the sprint race, and then that he finished in the lead. There was then a tense wait for everybody behind him, before it was finally confirmed that Jamie Stevenson (World Champion TM, for trade mark, as he soon became known) was Britain’s second orienteering World Champion.

I went downstairs and broke the news to Helen, and then went back upstairs to work. There was probably a slightly larger party amongst the fans in Switzerland that night. The only thing I remember about the middle distance and long distance was the debate about whether Simone Niggli-Luder could really win all three individual titles on home terrain. We all know now that she is the greatest female orienteer ever, but this was the week when it first became apparent. She won the relay as well to take four golds out of four, to add to her gold and bronze from 2001. Another long-term star came to the front of the field with Thierry Gueorgiou winning the middle race to take his first world title.

And for British fans the finish to the week was as exciting as the start had been. The men were always in the fight for medals in the relay, and eventually Dan Marston, Jon Duncan and Jamie Stevenson World Champion TM came home third to take bronze. Sitting at home spectating wasn’t quite like being there, but at least we knew in almost real time what was going on. The main thing you miss is the chance to run on the areas themselves and find out quite how technical and physical they really were.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

WOC-5: Going to the dogs?

WOC 2001 took us to Tampere in Finland. This was a chance to see the first of the new "spectator-friendly" World Championships. So what difference did it make?

On the face of it there were several "firsts". There was the first running of a new event - the "Sprint". There was the first real-time tracking of competitors in the Classic Race. For the first time the women's relay was finished before the men started. And for individual events the start was right next to the finish, rather than hidden away in the depths of the forest. But it was the TV coverage that came to dominate the week.

The first event of the week was the Sprint. This was a last-minute addition to the program, and nobody seemed really sure what it was meant to be. Most people seemed to be expecting a Park race, but the event was in a wooded area. The most controversial aspect was that competitors were given a map and allowed to train in the forest beforehand. Course planning turned out to be roughly equivalent to an Orange course, despite the fact that the area had intricate contour detail. Spectators were allowed anywhere on the main path network, although most stayed within about 100 metres of the start/finish. I wandered out to the edge of the map and found a bizarre control site. I now have what may be an extremely valuable photograph of the new World Champion, Vroni Konig of Switzerland, punching a control on the corner of the toilet block at Tampere Greyhound stadium. Back at the finish we had the first sighting of the massive TV screen and results board that will forever be a symbol of the week. The screen was the size of a double-decker bus, but then that is effectively what it was, since it came complete with its own driving cab. The results board was almost as big. The crowd spent most of its time watching the screens, which unfortunately meant they had their backs to the finish run-in, and so there was often very little noise and cheering even for the home runners.

The big attraction of the Classic race was meant to be the real-time tracking system. All competitors had to carry what was effectively a combined mobile phone and GPS receiver. This fitted into a vest which was large enough to ensure that every runner looked like they were running in a white O-top rather than the national team colours that people expected. TV coverage from the forest was extensive, although once you've watched one person slog uphill in hot sun to a control there is not a lot else to see. The trick as a runner was to make sure you started early and had a good run. As soon as you were outside of the top two or three that was your chance of TV fame gone, and the cameras moved on. TV is about winners. The situation was summed up when Yvette Hague finished in silence, and without any mention by the commentators, since she was only 11th and we already knew who had won the three medals. As for the tracking, it was as close to a non-event as it could be. We probably saw about three or four glimpses of the map with tracks on through the whole day, and this was unintelligible even to the experienced orienteer. Denmark promises the latest version of the technology. Will it be more intelligible this time?

Relay day provided more of the same, lots more of the same. If anything there were too many TV controls. With one every 10 minutes, it meant that the coverage never really got past the top three or four teams before moving on, which meant that most of the interesting racing was missed. The course planning was undoubtedly compromised by the spectator controls. It included a dog-leg which a C5 planner would be ashamed of with runners coming down a path to the assembly field, punching at a fodder rack 20 metres into the field, and then going straight back up the path. TV highlight of the day was the slow-motion replay to decide second and third place between Norway and Sweden in the Women's race. The Norwegian forgot to dip and lost it on the line.

I didn't see the Short race, since I was on the way back for the Scottish 6-Day. I've got a pretty good idea of what it was like though. Especially since it was on the same area as the Relay and the Short Race qualifier.

Overall I don't think things were as bad as I may have made out above. The areas were reasonable (though definitely nowhere near the best in Finland) and the weather was mainly sunny (apart from the odd thunderstorm). Great Britain didn't come back with the hoped-for medal. TV did dominate, but it was easier to follow what was going on than ever before. Apparently there was a two minute report on Transworld Sport on Channel 4. I missed it; I was in the shower at the time. But then I had of course seen the live version.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

WOC-6: Yvette first, the rest nowhere

Most British orienteers go to the Scottish 6-Day at some point, and 1999 was just another 6-Day to some. The difference of course was that WOC 99 just happened to be going on in parallel. It was yet another week of hot weather for a World Championships, with the event centre in Inverness and races spread over a wide area, and it was yet another year where we all hoped that Yvette would finally grab the victory she deserved. Yvette warmed up by winning the World Cup Short Race in the Lake District, and the crowd went wild. Could she do it again when it really counted? Just to cause confusion, she got married and suddenly we had to learn to cheer for Yvette Baker.

The classic race qualifier and final were in Glen Affric. Steve Hale and Heather Monro both had excellent runs to finish 12th and 8th respectively. Yvette finished the Classic Race with the leading time, and said she was happy with her run. But one by one the rest of the field came in, and it was finally to end up as 4th place. Perhaps the Short Race then...

The Short Race qualifier went to plan, with Yvette winning her heat, leaving her to start last but one in the final. I spent the race in the forest with a Swedish TV crew. We were positioned to capture the spectator control, and then a quick dash allowed us to see runners at the penultimate control as well. The radio split times sounded encouraging and suddenly I looked up to see a crowd of runners at the spectator control. Unbelievably Yvette had caught all three runners ahead of her. The four runners set off on the final loop leaving the crowded finish field to wait in hope. I crossed over to the penultimate control and waited. We already knew that many runners were missing this control and ending up on the hill to our left. I saw a group of three people coming round the edge of the hill. This was it, but Yvette wasn't with them. And then all I remember is a British O-suit flashing past away from the control and towards the finish, leaving the others to loop back and punch Then the cheering started and we strained to make out what the commentators had to say. World Champion. Gold medal. Yvette, we never doubted you. It's worth recording that this was also the start of a real new world order. Yvette was followed home by Lucie Bohm of Austria and Frauke Schmitt Gran of Germany. For the first time ever there were no medals for Scandinavians in a World Championships race.

And there was still the relay. This turned out to be in probably the best setting of any World Championships race I have been to, and it certainly had the best commentary. I'd swapped the Swedish TV crew for a Finnish TV crew, and got to see some of the race in the forest, as well as from high up on the hill overlooking the finish. I will never forget the noise that the crowd made as Heather Monro punched at the last control and brought the Brits into first place after two legs. Yvette was running last "Relay stalwart in anyone's dream team" CompassSport had said in the preview. She went out in fourth place, just seconds behind the Swedes. The radio reports all around the course simply told us that it would be Sweden or Britain for bronze. And by the end it came down to a straight sprint into the finish field. The yellow and blue of Sweden just held off the red, white and blue of Great Britain.

So Great Britain now had a World Champion. Was this the start of something big, or just a one-off? The British spectators knew what they wanted to believe, and from now on expectations would be even higher.

Friday, July 21, 2006

WOC-7: Bushmen in a Norwegian Wood

By the time of WOC 97 in Grimstad in the south of Norway we knew that Great Britain would be staging the next World Championships. That meant a large GB team of officials going out to watch what happened behind the scenes, see what to do and what not to do, and push out as much publicity as possible. Helen and I were part of that team, and spent a hectic week spectating, competing and having all sorts of meetings.

This was another of those "high expectations, good results but not quite what we'd hoped". World Championships. The problem was actually worse than that. Four medals at the previous two World Championships meant that the British spectators expected a medal. No matter what the real expectations should have been, the number of medals was always going to be the test of how well we'd done at all World Championships to come. Yvette had injury problems beforehand, and was never quite up with the pace. Steve Hale was the other great hope, but he too wasn't quite up with the leaders. I seem to remember that this was a "peaked too late" problem and that just after WOC he won the Swedish Championships instead.

From the spectating viewpoint this was a pretty reasonable WOC. The weather was sunny all week, and the areas were generally runnable and not too hilly so the spectator races were enjoyable. The opening ceremony was memorable in the sense that it went on for ever and seemed to have little to do with orienteering. The commentary at each event included live feeds from the forest where a whispering commentator provided information on who was going through a particular control site. This was a bit strange at first, but ended up being quite entertaining. But it was the WOC song that really sticks in the memory. Instantly referred to as "Bushmen", since the chorus started with the line "We are bushmen", this was one of those annoying tunes that you end up humming all the way around a course and stops you concentrating properly. It was played at every opportunity at each event, and really deserves greater exposure to a world-wide audience. I greatly regret not buying the CD that was available at the time.

Whilst I was looking around for some background information it struck me that a lot of the events from the early days of the internet have effectively disappeared. Blair Trewin's site was great for events up to 1993, but he then settles for links to event sites that no longer exist. I can't find a full set of WOC 95 or WOC 97 results anywhere, and I think I'm about to discover that WOC 99 is the same. The IOF site appears to have everything from WOC 2001 onwards.

But anyway, the story has now come full circle and the spectator's tale has reached a World Orienteering Championships in Great Britain. There was only one question that anybody was really interested in: could Yvette win a gold medal at last?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

WOC-8: This precious stone set in the silver sea

WOC 95 was in Germany, based in the town of Detmold. If you think it has been hot this week in Britain then think again. Germany was hotter. And it had hills. And vegetation. And more British medals, so the travelling fans had quite a lot to cheer about. And for the techies amongst you, this was the first WOC to use electronic punching. The Emit system caught a few out, but was here to stay.

The short race produced one of the first signs of the Swiss women's coming dominance, with gold going to Marie-Luce Romanens. Yvette Hague took silver, and we cheered a lot. But the men's race, and particularly the prize giving, was more interesting. An unknown (at least to most of us) Ukrainian stormed round to victory. Yuri Omeltchenko was such a surprise winner that the team manager had to sing the National Anthem at the prize giving since they didn't have a tape to play.

The classic race included a lap of the enormous statue on the main hill overlooking the town, followed by some typical continental terrain with fairly straightforward contours with big hills, detailed vegetation and an extensive path network. All the talk beforehand and the analysis afterwards focused on how critical the long route choice legs would be. One day I'll get round to writing up the details that show this was all nonsense. The long leg on the women's course produced different route choices where the leaders all turned out to take about the same time. A trivial path leg near the end was much more critical, where the Hungarian Katalin Olah took nearly a minute out of nearly everybody else on what looks like a leg with no technical merit at all. She was simply running faster than anyone else when it mattered. Behind her Yvette took another silver medal. The British spectators were getting spoiled by this stage, and I don't think we ever appreciated what a performance it was to take two silver individual medals at the same World Championships.

The relay changeover was in a field on top of a hill. The last leg seemed to involve a huge climb up the hill, and finishers looked suitably shattered as they came into view. The British men were fighting for the sixth and last podium place on the last leg, and Steve Hale was announced at the radio control at the bottom of the hill at the same time as Carsten Jorgenson of Denmark. Everyone thought it was clear that Steve would be outrun up the hill by the man famous at that stage for being European cross-country champion. But it was Hale who made it to the top first to take sixth place. We cheered a lot. Carsten is clearly still in good shape, and has just been selected for WOC 2006. His unmistakable running style will certainly give the home crowd something to look forward to.

And finally some good news for British fans David "BJ" Brickhill-Jones has been declared fit and will take part in the sprint race. August 1st could be another historic day for British orienteering.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

WOC-93: The Fab Four

There is no doubt that WOC93 was, and still remains, my favourite WOC. The areas, in Harriman State Park just north of New York, were fantastic. The Americans surprised everybody by managing not only to put on the World Championships but also to stage a very large multi-day event for spectators as well. Yvette finally got the medal we all knew she would get eventually. And to top it all, the British men had one of those days that you can only dream of, and took away a silver medal in the relay.

I've written previously about both the classic race, where Yvette finally got her first medal, and the week as a whole. All of the relevant facts are there already: Hale running the wrong side of a tree to miss a medal by one second in the short race; the pouring rain and rugged terrain that was the classic race; hoping but not knowing for sure that Yvette had her medal, until the sound of the Clive Allen interview told us she must surely have done it this time; the gradual realisation that first Palmer and then Hale were taking the rest of the world apart to put Britain within sight of the gold medal as the injured Swiss runner collapsed over the line to win. This is definitely what being a spectator at the World Championships is all about.

What you won't find in those reports are those other little details that I can still recall. The chaos of New York traffic as we crossed some enormous bridge just outside the airport with John still not really sure what side he should be driving on. The indoor swimming pool with rooms arranged around it in the Suffern Holiday Inn where we stayed for the week. The trip to New York on a rest day, including a trip to the top of the World Trade Centre back in the pre-9/11 days when the world was a different place. Managing to lock the keys in the car just minutes before my start, and discovering how many Americans come equipped with all sorts of dodgy tools for breaking and entering. Nearly managing to break 10 minutes/kilometre with a good run over the boulder fields and hills where Hale had managed to break five minutes/kilometre. This too is what being a spectator at the World Championships is all about. Let's hope Denmark provides equal memories.

I've been back to the World Champs areas twice since 1993. The first time was for a 6-Day event in 1996, which I cunningly managed to fit in as part of my honeymoon. (The other part was of course the Canadian Championships the week before.) The second return was for a single race that happened to fit in with a trip to Boston to attend a friend's wedding. We stayed in the Suffern Holiday Inn for old time's sake. I've still got Harriman State Park in my all-time top 10 of places to orienteer. Go if you get a chance.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

WOC-10: Czech out Chapman

WOC 91 in Czechoslovakia (as it still was then) started early, with a bit of test spectating at the British selection races, held in conjunction with the Scottish 6-Day. I distinctly remember a young Heather Monro having a fairly terrible run and blowing her chance of selection. Despite this she still insisted that the results were changed to spell her name correctly. Her time was yet to come. The other main item of note was a great run from Mark Chapman (a LOKkie like me) which was then ignored by the selectors who left him out of the team. The massed ranks of SHUOC rallied round and the end of the week saw an outbreak of "Czech Out Chapman" protest t-shirts: civil disobedience comes to orienteering.

This was to be my first trip to Eastern Europe. We did it in style, flying to Nuremburg and driving the short distance to the spa resort of Marianske Lazne (or Marienbad as it was better known in the West, having starred in some cult movie I hadn't seen) in a friend's black top-of-the-range BMW. This was to be the cause of many envious glances through the week. Spectators had a 3-day event to warm up, in typical hilly and varied terrain. Star attraction at each event was the beer lorry, where a trifling sum bought you a large glass of ice-cold beer to celebrate getting round. We were living it up in real style at the hotel, although the menu left a little to be desired, especially as it was the same every day. Star attraction was the "fried earp" which we worked out was meant to be "fried carp" but normally turned out to be boiled trout if anyone ordered it. Our hotel was just a short stroll from the musical fountains and formal gardens of the main spa area, and altogether it was a very cultured week. We even set out for a day trip to Prague on a rest day, but decided it was too hot and stopped half way. We found a fantastic monastery to visit on a back road, but I've no idea what it was called.

Ironically after all the fuss it turned out that Chappers made the team, since injury forced Steve Hale (I presume it was him) to withdraw. Mark did what only he could by promptly getting disqualified for punching a control on the wrong bush in the short race qualifier. He was in good company, since Yuri Omeltchenko did the same thing. He's another who will feature again soon enough. But it wasn't the disqualifications on the men's course that caused the major row. Instead it was the disqualification of medal hopes Ragnhild Bente Andersen of Norway and Yvette Hague (yes, GB's own superstar), both for punching slightly out of the boxes on the control card. Younger readers will be unfamiliar with the concept of control cards, for the very good reason that the development of electronic punching was a direct result of these disqualifications.

The short race final was based in the grandstand of a horse racing track, and provided little interest to the spectator. Runners emerged from the forest about 400m from the crowd, and proceeded to run across a flat grassy area before finishing. The Brits did nothing in particular, and the main point of interest was double gold for the home runners: almost certainly the first World Championships individual races where a Scandinavian had failed to claim a gold medal.

The classic race returned to normality with Mr Orienteering, Jorgen Martensson of Sweden, claiming gold, even if it was a Hungarian, Katalin Olah, who won the women's race. The courses started with a huge climb out of a river valley, before a slightly less gruelling run around typical rocky outcrops in mixed forest. The spectator race I ran avoided the early climb, but had the same last 12km as the men. IOF guests were less lucky in the traditional IOF race. They got the first, hilly, half of the course instead.

The relays were held near Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad) but I remember little of them. Overall the British week was unspectacular again in terms of results, but the spectator races were better than previous World Championships I had been to. The final memory is of somehow managing to get on the plane home without my passport. I talked my way through immigration at Heathrow on the basis of a London Underground travelcard and three friends wearing identical World Championships t-shirts to mine.

Monday, July 17, 2006

WOC-11: Sweden, the home of orienteering

I still don't know why I decided to go to WOC 89 in Sweden. Clearly I had some holiday to use up, since I'd certainly been to the Scottish 6-Day a few weeks before. Whatever the reason for going, I remember little of what was certainly the least impressive World Championships I have attended. The weather was unspectacular, the British results were unspectacular, the areas were fairly boring considering what Sweden has to offer, and I spent a week camping next to a Volvo factory. The highlight may well have been the start draw that I attended and that had to be redone after some minor technical problem came to light. And I had a good night out in Liseberg, the amusement park in Gothenburg, on the way home.

Hale and Hague led the way for GB, but again it was solid top 20 results rather than anything more to celebrate. Looking at the results now I guess that four Brits in the top 33 on the men's course was quite a good performance, but it's a bit difficult to cheer results like that. The good news is that this was the last WOC with only one individual race, so from now on there would at least be more chance of medals. Or so we hoped.

Today's news from Denmark is that Jamie Stevenson seems to have won the Danish long selection race. Seems a bit odd, but that is what the results show. Good for his confidence if nothing else, but Jani Lakanen was nearly 5 minutes faster in the Finnish selection race so who knows what is really going on.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

WOC-12: The French Connection

And so we come to the first WOC I attended, based in Gerardmer-La Bresse near the French border with Germany. It seemed obvious to take in the 2-Day event in Holland on the way down, and we then managed a day of non-sightseeing in Amsterdam. For reference the Rijksmuseum is closed on Mondays (or at least it was in 1987). For some reason we decided that Strasbourg was the next place to visit on the way south, and eventually arrived at some sort of hostel that I can't remember at all. As a spectator it pays to know a few people, and this time round we managed to tag along with the GB B Team Tour, on the basis that two of them (Rob Lee and Mark Seddon) were in the car with us.

I vaguely remember getting to the qualification race as it finished, and then going to a training area covered in nettles in the rain. This was Les Xettes and for a long time had the distinction of being the only area I had run on beginning with the letter X. Some years later it was joined by Xian Yang, one of the areas for the Chinese 3-Day in 1995.

This was still a time when WOC was only a long race and a relay. British hopes focused squarely on Yvettte Hague, as they would do for several years to come. I seem to remember she'd won a World Cup race in France the year before, which was being optimistically seen as some sort of form guide. GB spectating at WOC is characterised by high hopes before the big races followed by what are normally pretty reasonable results considering, but not quite what you had hoped for. Every now and then the team slip in something completley unexpected, but that was yet to come, and for now we were still at the "not bad but not quite what we'd hoped for" stage.

Yvette managed 17th, and Bilbo managed 16th on the men's course. Not bad but not quite we were hoping for, as I said. So we left the sun-baked hillside after a day of spectating and settled for an evening of ethical discussion. The next day there was a French National event, and everybody knew that they would be running the World Champs course. Should you look at the course beforehand? I was pretty convinced it would make no difference to me, so I looked. Lots of others pretended not to, but who knows for sure? Anyway, the next day I got to run up the ski slope and out into the open area where the TV cameras weren't any more and down the staggeringly steep final hill and finally dragged myself round the 17k with 1000m of climb (or so it felt). My time was quite reasonable I thought, but we'll never know for sure since I don't think the French have yet got round to publishing the results even to this day. Running the actual World Championships course was one of the real attractions for spectators, but it seems to be one of the things that has now disappeared.

I don't rememebr much about the relays at all, other than waiting at the changeover to take a photo of Julie Martindale starting for Ireland on the last leg. Julie was in LOK, the same club as me, which is another of the attractions of orienteering at this level. It doesn't seem to take long before you get to know somebody who is a competitor, or at least that you run against regularly, or see at events. As another example of the rather small world of orienteering, the person handing over to Julie in France was Anne May, who I didn't know at the time. I have since got to know both her and her husband, who will turn up in a few days time sharing a hotel room with me on a trip to WOC 2001 in Finland.

Meanwhile back in Denmark I see that Jamie Stevenson won the middle test race. Probably doesn't mean a great deal at this stage, but one thing to note is how tight the times have been on all the courses so far. Looks like we might be in for some very close races indeed.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

WOC-13: We interrupt this broadcast...

There I was all set to tell you about the delights of WOC 87 in France when various other things came up which seemed more interesting in the short term.

Firstly I have just had an email from Nick Barrable, the CompassSport editor, asking me to do an article for CompassSport about the spectator point of view. Not a problem, but what interests me is how he spotted that this blog had started, since I haven't publicised it at all yet. Better email him to find out.

Secondly this is a chance for some first thoughts on what might happen in Denmark in two weeks time. The sprint test race in Arhus has just finished, so we now know a bit about the technology that internet spectators can expect, as well as a bit about who is in form. The coverage included a fixed video stream of a camera showing the finish line, with commentary by that well-known Dane Clive Allen. Clive is not the most animated of commentators (certainly not in comparison with Per Forsberg who will presumably be doing WOC itself) but he clearly had a reasonable supply of information available, even if it didn't include the name of the mysterious New Zealander who kept getting mentioned. The real-time results seemed a bit hit and miss, and need a bit of work. The presentation of information itself is good, but results seemed be missing or not working for a long time. At one point I'm sure they had runners shown against the wrong courses, and the M21 results still aren't complete. Anyway, you can see what's on offer at which will have coverage tomorrow (middle) and Monday (long).

Weather in Denmark looks pretty much like it is here in St Albans at the moment. Unbroken sunshine, with temperatures in the mid 20s. We're camping for the WOC week, so I guess it will be raining by then. The main point of interest on the video was the park road that finishers crossed about 10 metres from the finish line. I assume there was someone controlling the traffic just out of sight, but several times a car shot past just before or after a runner. I also spotted several runners going for the "extended map" technique to cross the finish beam that extra few milliseconds earlier. Does this really save more than you lose by having to slow down to throw your arm forward in the first place?

Least surprising result of the day was clearly Simon Niggli's win, but a margin of 53 seconds over Mina Kauppi is enormous, even if the Finn was on a slightly different course. There was good news for GB, with Sarah Rollins, Pippa Whitehouse and Graham Gristwood all having good runs. David Brickhill-Jones was announced just ahead of GG, but then the commentary said he'd been disqualified. Still no information on the results web site on this, so we'll have to wait and see if BJ has recovered after his JK injury. Final concern for the organising team will be that the men were at least a minute slower than expected: time for the planner to lose 200m from the WOC final?

Perhaps tomorrow I'll get on to what happened when I went to my first ever WOC as a spectator.

Friday, July 14, 2006

WOC-14: News travels slowly

The first 10 years of my WOC spectating career was spent reading about the events in The Orienteer and CompassSport, normally several weeks if not months after the events had taken place. If you were lucky you might see the results themselves in The Times or The Daily Telegraph, but that was about it. This was a time when British medals were no more than faint hopes, so there was no real prospect of any coverage unless someobody wanted a "look what these strange people do" type article.

There was no internet to provide instant global access to everything that was going on, and the concept of actually going to watch the World Championships simply didn't feature in my plans. Instead I was too busy trying out the delights of the Swiss 5-Days, the Swedish O-Ringen, the Sorlandsgaloppen, the Danish 3-Day, the Scottish 6-Day and various other multi-day events around Europe. So WOC78 in Norway, WOC79 in Finland, WOC81 in Switzerland, WOC83 in Hungary and WOC85 in Australia largely passed me by.

Perhaps my first conscious sighting of a World Champion was seeing a skinny Norwegian winning the Swiss 5-Day event in 1980: Oyvin Thon had become World Champion at WOC 79 in Finland. This was a time of complete domination by the Norwegian men. They took the first three places in 1979 and 1981 and, unbelievably, the first four places in 1983. The women's race was dominated by one woman rather than one country. Annichen Kringstad of Sweden was World Champion in 1981, 1983 and 1985. Anybody care to predict the result of a Kringstad race against Simone Niggli?

Back in the present day, I've just spotted that the Danish selection races are being covered live on the internet tomorrow afternoon. Time for a spot of spectator training I think.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

WOC-15: How it all started

I guess I should start with WOC 76 in Scotland. Not that I knew anything about it at the time, but this was what got me started orienteering. The event itself appeared to get little publicity and I was certainly unaware it was happening. But somehow a film got made about it, and the film got shown on television over Christmas, and suddenly orienteering in Great Britain started growing. I vaguely remember that Chris Brasher was somewhere behind the scenes writing articles in newspapers and getting the film shown on television. Whatever, there was an increase in the number of people orienteering in 1977, and one of those newcomers was Brian Johnson. Brian attended the first ever Scottish 6-Day event in 1977, which was specifically organised to make use of all the areas mapped for WOC 76. Brian just happened to be a teacher at my school. He convinced me to try orienteering, and my first event was on 27th November 1977 at Denny Wood in the New Forest.

Looking at the WOC 76 results now there are many familiar names both in the GB team and elsewhere. Geoff Peck and Carol McNeill led the way for GB, and these, along with Chris Hirst, were the names that I was to become familiar with as I gradually found out what orienteering was all about. In those days there was only a long race and a relay. Egil Johansen of Norway won the men's race, Liisa Veijalainen of Finland won the women's race, and Sweden won both relays. This was still a time where Norway, Sweden and Finland dominated the results and most of the rest of the world were nowhere. In the men's race the first 18 places went to four NOR, four SWE, four FIN, three SUI and three CZE. For the women it was four FIN, four SWE, four NOR, four SUI and one DEN in the top 17. One thing is for certain: there will be a much greater spread of countries in with a chance in Denmark this year.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

WOC-16: The blog starts here

So here we are two weeks away from the World Orienteering Championships. I'll be in Denmark to cheer on the GB team, so it seemed like a good idea to try to provide some comments and background information as things happen. This is intended to be the start of a regular series of items providing the thoughts of a regular WOC spectator. Let's see how far I actually get.