Friday, August 24, 2007

WOC 2007: Independence Day

Today was Independence Day in the Ukraine and so a public holiday. The good news was this meant that the metro was a little less crowded than normal, at lest going into town in the morning. We had decided to do some quick sightseeing to tick off a few more major sights before heading for the WOC Tour Sprint Race. We started out at what should have been the Great Gate of Kiev, or at least a replica of it. It was a bit difficult to tell what it was at all since everything was covered in scaffolding and blue plastic sheets. Next we headed for St Sophia Cathedral, only to find it swamped by a huge crowd sitting out in the bright sunshine listening to long speeches, complete with marching bands and live TV coverage. Many of the crowd were dressed in full dinner suits or posh dresses, often topped off with what appeared to be paper hats to keep the sun off. Interestingly this turned out to be the only occasion in the week when we saw any giant TV screens: they never made it to any of the events.

A quick stroll down the boulevard led us to St Michael's Cathedral, and then there was just time to get the funicular railway down the hill to the metro station and head south to the bus pick-up point. We got there 10 minutes before the first bus was due to leave, and just managed to get on before it set off early. We were then dropped off in a park not far away, and wandered around watching the various festivities going on. A large stage was set up next to the finish, and at various points through the afternoon had magicians, dancers, bands and various other forms of entertainment. There appeared to be some sort of sporting festival going on as well, with people playing table tennis, football, darts (I kid you not, although they were throwing from about 5 metres away which reduced the skill level somewhat) and an entertaining variation of skittles that involved throwing metre-long sticks at assorted blocks of wood to try to knock them out of a marked area.

There was also a dog training class going on, with some rather large and fierce dogs doing tricks. This somewhat complicated the orienteering when the organisers emerged to set up the spectator control on a tree in the middle of the dogs. Some runners later in the day weren't willing to risk getting too close to the dogs, and decided not to punch the control. Ukrainian SI kit is of the ultra-robust variety. All control units come encased in a metal box that is screwed to two stakes. This is then connected by a wire to the nearest large object. This is so big that it can look like a taped route away from the control at times. It also provides quite a trip hazard, and several times during the week I ran into the wire at speed. For some reason the World Champs competitors have missed out on this technology, and get standard boxes plus back-up punch on their stakes. It then seems that the organisers change every control site before the WOC Tour starts.

The sprint race itself was in very pleasant terrain being mainly very runnable open forest with scattered open areas, although it was quite steep in places. Our planning featured an unfortunate dog leg at the end when we ran all the way to a lake at the bottom of the hill before running back up the same hill to the finish, but overall it was a chance to run at a sensible speed at last. Helen even managed to win her course.

Then it was back to the hotel for the traditional British Team picnic. This took place on the 24th floor of the Hotel Tourist, providing spectacular views over the Dnipro River towards central Kiev. Attendance was a little on the low side, given that so few spectators have been brave enough to make the trip. Later that night we returned to the 24th Floor to watch what was meant to be a spectacular fireworks display at the end of Independence Day. This turned out to consist of individual fireworks going off at quite long intervals, so we soon gave up and went to bed. Apparently the real display started just after that.

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