Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Great WOC, That's For Sure

Is this the real star of WOC2006? The photo shows Per Forsberg, chief speaker for WOC 2006, and apparently a well-known TV commentator on football and athletics in Sweden. Many of you will already be familiar with his fast, loud and enthusiastic commentary, and will also recognise his many catch phrases, especially "he's too late" and "that's for sure". For those who have never heard him, think Jonathan Pearce with a slight Swedish accent.

Per kept up what seemed like a continuous stream of well-informed commentary throughout the whole of WOC. He was clearly supported by an extensive array of radio control times, TV cameras and real-time tracking information from TracTrac, as well as a team of helpers who were picking out the real action. The spectators got only part of this information, with limited viewing of the tracking information. The big screen was the biggest I've ever seen, and was used well to present a mix of split times, finish times and shots from the forest. From what I can tell it would appear that people watching via the internet probably had more information available, since they could access everything Per had. So in some ways this was the first year when watching from home really seems to have been a valid option.

So what did you get from being there? I guess it's the same question for any sporting event. There was a real sense of atmosphere at every race, with an awful lot noise (especially from Swiss cow bells) and huge numbers of flags, especially Swiss, British, Finnish and Swedish. The race arenas themselves were in fact marginally too small for the numbers that turned up, and the main spectating areas were very hard to move through at the Middle and Relay races because there were simply too many people crammed in. Apparently the Sprint race could have used an athletics stadium for the finish, but the organisers were worried that this was too big and would have looked empty. There were excellent facilities at each race, with huge tents supplying food and drink, plus an ice cream van and beer van each day, and the weather overall was warm and sunny, with just an occasional thunderstorm. And of course you have to be there spectating in order to be able to run in the forest afterwards to find how hard it really was.

There were also several points where the reaction of the crowd really added to the suspense. Remember that an orienteering crowd is extremely knowledgeable about what is going on, and has a pretty good idea of who should be doing what and when. The things that caused the biggest gasps or cheers throughout the week were:
  • Simon Niggli punching the spectator control 6 seconds down on Hanny Alston. That was the point when the crowd worked out there was a real prospect of a huge upset.
  • The tracking display of the long leg on the Men's Long Final, showing runners taking very different route choices. The biggest shock was when Jani Lakanen appeared to stop dead, but we then worked out that this was because we had caught up to real time and he was still doing the leg.
  • David Andersson of Sweden punching the spectator control at the Middle Final and then running the wrong way along the tapes and starting the last loop backwards. I'm surprised that the gasps from the crowd weren't enough to tell him something was wrong.
  • The many mistakes that showed up on the tracking for the Middle Race and Relay, where what we all thought were the world's best orienteers proved that they were human too. Particularly for the Relay it seemed that nearly everyone had a go at making a serious mistake when in or near the lead.
And finally a thought that no-one else seems to have picked up on yet. The Middle Race was originally meant to be include a Micro O section to add spectator interest. Luckily, in my opinion, the WOC organisers failed to get the financial support to do this. What we saw was a fantastic, and spectator-friendly, Middle Race with no need for gimmicks or compromise. Let's stick with proper orienteering for the World Championships, and let the races speak for themselves.

1 comment:

David May said...

Simon,

Yes - it was good to watch ... but only I think for the likes of you and me who understand what's going on.

An outsider would still see runners coming into a control and then leaving it and would have little concept of how they got there and how the map was being used. The whole business of the navigational challenge of the sport was missed completely, especially as we didn't see TracTrac much (at all?).

Micr-O, properly done (ie not as per Nordic Champs last year), could relate what runners do to what the map shows and could show aspects of the navigational challenge well.

There's also the additional excitement of seeing errors being made and penalty loops incurred. Biathlon went through a similar change a while ago and introduced penalty loops in exchange for mistakes and saw the spectator/media interest in the sport shoot up (no pun intended) as a result.

The first Middle race of next year's World Cup is due to include Micr-O. It will be interesting to see if they can do it well ...