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.

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