Sunday, August 26, 2007

WOC 2007: More of the same but faster

And so we have made it to the final day of WOC 2007, and we start as we began with the sprint. By now the routine is familiar: dodgy breakfast in the Hotel Tourist (porridge, muesli or omelette are the three choices for the "sport" menu, plus tea or coffee if you persist long enough, and milk to put in it if you grab a carton from an adjacent table), a steamy trip in a packed metro, and arrival at a sunny event arena to find Per Forsberg on the commentary gantry getting excited about just about everything as only he can. The men are off first in the sprint, and the Botanic Gardens provide quite a nice setting, even if there does seem to be an awful lot of tape around trying to keep spectators away from places they really would like to go.

For the first time we get to see runners starting, and then there are two spectator controls on the edge of the arena plus a long finishing straight that is to prove decisive as it turns out. Sprint ace Emil Wingstedt starts early after his scare in the qualifier and puts in a good time, but it will not be enough. We then concentrate on the three Brits starting at two minute intervals. They all have excellent runs (GG 12th, Jon 16th, Jamie 18th) and Britain finishes top country based on the finishing position of their third runner. GG gets most attention at the finish as he runs into third position with over half the field already finished. Yet another good day in the sprint for the British.

Sirmais comes in near the end to give a Latvian leader, but is narrowly overtaken by Hubmann and then Johansson. At this point there are seven seconds covering the top five runners. Matthias Merz reproduces his form from the long to open up a massive 19 second gap at the top and there is only one person left on the course. The flying Frenchman appears at the final control and no-one can be sure who will win. Thierry gives it everything to take one second off Merz on the run-in and claim the gold by nine tenths of a second. Pure genius.

The women's race wasn't quite as exciting, but the result was again pretty predictable. Niggli first, Kauppi second, and eight Finns, Norwegians and Swedes in the top 10, joined only by new World Champion Niggli and ex World Champion Allston. Is women's orienteering really that boring and predictable in what should be the discipline most open to other countries?

After everything was over I happened to be in the right place at the right time to buy a sprint race map from an enormous scrum of people, so took the chance to have a jog round some of the men's course. The area was a mixture of formal gardens, buildings and thicker wooded areas with quite a dense path network, all set on quite steep hills. There were some significant route choice options, although it may have been more a case of picking one and doing it well rather than finding a killer route choice. Talking to GG afterwards he said he really wasn't sure about some of the routes he took, but clearly the final result was OK.

As I jogged past the arena at the end I heard an announcement that the WOC Tour prize-giving was about to take place, so Helen and I just managed to get back in time to claim our certificates and cuddly toys for hard-earned second and third places overall. Then it was time for some final sight-seeing on the last afternoon. The nearest attraction was the enormous (over 60 metres) "Iron Lady" statue that dominates the Kiev skyline from the east. We led a group of other orienteers down a path that eventually ended up leading us through a cemetry and past an underground church before emerging on a dirt track through what looked like somebody's garden gate. We later found that everybody else had come down this way as well. The dirt road turned out to be up-market Kiev and was lined with enormous houses complete with CCTV and tinted glass in the large cars parked in each driveway. Finally we got to the bottom of the valley and started the climb up to the status and associated war museum complete with tanks, missiles, guns, boats, helicopters and huge statues of a kind only Eastern Europe ever seems to produce. From there we decided to get a taxi to the other end of town to see the final remaining sights: St Andrew's Church and the road leading down from it lined with people selling all sorts of Ukrainian items ranging from the expected postcards and Russian dolls to the slightly less expected deer skins complete with attached deer heads.

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