Thursday, October 16, 2008

City of London Orienteering Race

What an event. If you haven't seen it I recommend starting by looking at the map and courses in Routegadget and then seeing gg's video. Then there are the results plus lots of pictures, discussion and comments from officials on the official event web site.

The map, produced by Ollie O'Brien, is a pure work of art. There laid out in front of you is the whole City of London, from the remains of the Roman walls (in the olive green just north of control 135) to St Paul's Cathedral (control 151) to modern skyscrapers such as the Gherkin (control 137).

This was a chance to orienteer around the streets of London, which on its own would have made a great day out. The street network is not particularly complex, but it is good enough to make the navigation interesting, and around every corner you find a view of some well-known building to distract you. The start and finish were in Broadgate Arena next to Livepool Street Station (as shown in the photo of prizegiving on the left). The majority of the 400 competitors arrived by public transport and could sit in the warm sunshine while they waited to start or to discuss route choices after they had finished.

But the added element on top of all that was the final few controls spread around the Barbican Centre. The is spread over multiple levels, and proved a real challenge to map. Never before have so many people been so confused by so few controls.

It's also worth looking at Ollie's web site where he explains some of the technology behind the race.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Don't Miss This

I spent last Saturday checking control sites for the City of London Orienteering Race on October 11th. All the photos in the mosaic on the left were taken from somewhere on one of the courses. Despite having lived and worked in London for over 25 years I still visited places I had never been to. At one point I was in a deserted maze of narrow alleyways behind the Bank of England when a lone runner came round the corner at high speed. It was Brooner, the Event Organiser, out test-running the long course. I said these alleyways were just like Venice. He thought it was like Istanbul. In future you can say that other places are just like the City of London. Ten minutes later I met him again in a deserted churchyard. The map is a true work of art on its own.

Don't miss it. This will be something special.

Click here for an enlarged version of the picture.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Golden Graham (and JD and Jamie)

What can you say. GG cruises round to come back fourth. JD decides that isn't good enough and comes back in the lead. Jamie is caught by Thierry and then Novikov. Clive Allen convinces us all that France and Russia are fighting for the Gold with GB settling for Bronze. Jamie suddenly catches Novikov back up despite a longer gaffle. Thierry swallows a bee, gets stung and ends up walking. Jamie's TracTrac route shows him missing control 25 by miles, but somehow he ends up in the lead at the next control and is clearly running much more strongly than Novikov. And that's the race over. JD and GG struggle to keep up with Jamie down the run-in, Dave Peel gets in on the act on the finish line and GBR have a third WOC Gold medal. Just how WOC should always be.

There has been much Nopesport comment about the shorts. You will see from the attached photo that GG was already sporting them at WOC 2008 in the Ukraine when they lined up for this "we'll be World Champions this time next year" photo.

Having now had a chance to watch the Czech TV coverage it strikes me that it was excellently done, especially given that it went out in real time. (The internet streaming from the Czech TV website simply wasn't up to it during the race itself). TracTrac almost proved its worth, but the loss of contact and occasional strange position reports mean that it can't quite be relied on to fill in the gaps between even quite a large number of TV cameras. Clive did a valiant typing job, which I then had to balance with numerous (and in fact too many) on-line radio controls, plus trying to keep up with the Test Match at Headingley and the Open Golf at Royal Birkdale as well. If I was a betting person I might be asking for a steward's enquiry to work out quite what went on in that mad last ten minutes, and I'm sure we'll be hearing a bit more detail from those involved.

But for now we can just celebrate the new records: first British Relay Gold, Jamie becomes a double World Champion, GG becomes the 10th Brit with a WOC medal (and saves himself a BOF membership fee for life I'd expect). And just for me, my ongoing prediction of the emergence of China took a step forward with 7th place in the Women's race, and we had a fourth WOC race where Sweden, Norway and Finland failed to win a medal, and the third of these four where GBR won the Gold. Quite astonishing.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Another Full Set

How many runners have claimed a WOC medal in all four disciplines, counting Short and Middle as equivalent for these purposes? Remember Sprint only started in 2001 so many people never had a chance.

A quick think about it brings up the obvious candidate: Simone Niggli. After that I was struggling, but some analysis showed that Minna Kauppi has also got one of each. And then at yesterday's Middle race a third person joined the elite group when Vroni Koenig-Salmi claimed silver and completed a full set of Sprint, Middle, Long and Relay medals. The photo shows her on the way to Gold in the Sprint in 2001 in Finland.It also shows what may be the least attractive control site in WOC history: Tampere Greyhound Stadium toilet block, NW corner.

So who else could join this group in the near future. Looking just at runners at the 2008 WOC with three types of medal already we find people missing teh following types of medal:
  • Sprint: Heli Jukkola, Marianne Andersen
  • Middle: Andrey Khramov, Emil Wingstedt , Matthias Merz
  • Relay: Yuri Omelchenko
  • Long: Jamie Stevenson, Pasi Ikonen, Thierry Gueorgiou
The Sprint and Middle are over, so those five have missed out. I can't see the Ukraine sneaking a relay medal so it surely won't be Yuri. Pasi and Thierry aren't running the Long so it won't be them. But it just could be Jamie. One extra thing to cheer him on for on Saturday.

(Just for completeness, Valentin Novikov would have needed a Long and Sprint medal.)

And one final statistical excitement from yesterday. The men's race was only the third race in WOC history that Norway, Finland and Sweden all failed to win a medal. Unfortunately for me this was the first time it had happened when Great Britain didn't claim the associated gold medal.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Looking for a Level Playing Field

I'm fascinated by the question of which countries do best in which races. I guess this is partly driven by the British love of the underdog, so any "unexpected" success is to be applauded. Come on China (as long as you don't beat the GBR runners).

So it's time to look at the numbers. Take all individual WOC finals since 2001 (when the Sprint race was introduced). Allocate 50 points to the winner, 49 for second and so on for all finishers. Add up the scores for each country. Then to allow for the fact that I have included the 2008 Sprint race result already, normalise by looking at percentage of the total number of points scored. What do you get and what does it mean?

What you get is the table at the bottom of this post. What it means is much more open to question but let me offer some thoughts. Little if any of this is statistically significant, but it's fun anyway.

1) The totals column shows that world orienteering falls neatly into four groups.
  • At the top we have the big four: Switzerland, Sweden, Finland and Norway. They are in fact remarkably evenly balanced on the calculations used here.
  • Then we have a group of eight countries with consistent solid results: Russia, Czech Republic, Great Britain, Denmark, France, Lithuania and Australia. Russia are probably making the move towards the big time, but I'd need time to do some moving average calculations to back this up. Lithuania and Australia are possibly surprise nations at this level.
  • The third group consists of Estonia, Ukraine, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Germany, Bulgaria, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Spain and New Zealand.
  • And then there is a fourth group of everyone else, none of whom are even yet close to making the move up to the third division.

2) Looking at the Sprint race column:
  • Finland, Norway, Russia, Estonia seem to do worse in Sprint races than their overall performance. Norwegian and Finnish results appear very bad indeed in comparison with the other two disciplines.
  • Great Britain, Austria and possibly Japan, the United State, China, Croatia and South Africa seem to do better in Sprint races than their overall performance
3) Looking at the Middle race column:
  • Great Britain, Denmark, Bulgaria, Hungary and Belgium seem to do worse in Middle races than their overall performance.
  • Finland, France (the Thierry factor), Lithuania, Poland, Belarus and the Netherlands seem to do better in Middle races than their overall performance
4) Looking at the Long race column:
  • France, Lithiuania, Australia, Poland and Japan seem to do worse in Long races than their overall performance.
  • Norway, Russia, Estonia and Germany seem to do better in Long races than their overall performance.
5) Switzerland and Sweden are notably consistent across all disciplines.

6) A final note of hope for the smaller nations: the only appearances of a "big four" nation in the "worse than normal" list are Finland and Norway in the Sprint race. This is the discipline where you probably have the best chance of success, whatever that means.

It's the Middle race tomorrow. Watch out for Finland, France, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus and the Netherlands I reckon.

Monday, July 14, 2008

TV or not TV...

Well that was fun. Everything about the Sprint Race looked good, with a fantastic old town centre as a start and finish area, a detailed area of parkland and gardens right next to the town to provide some intricate control picking, some really tricky long route choices and more TV cameras and radio controls than I could believe. Juggling the internet technology proved quite hard as you ended up trying to keep three or four split time windows open at the same time as leaving the live TV feed visible. The TV quality via the internet was a bit variable, and the radio controls seemed to stop updating occasionally, but overall there was certainly enough to keep me interested for both races.

Czech TV seemed to settle for presenting the event as a race rather than anything more complicated, which seemed to work fine. There was no tracking, and only brief glimpses of a map, so the navigational element of the coverage was minimal. But for sprint races you can get quite a good feel for what is going on just by watching someone standing still and panicking for two or three seconds just the wrong side of a flower bed. And there was certainly some pretty impressive control flow to watch as well as contrasting techniques for crossing the water feature. Trying to make the coverage any more complicated, especially in real time and with such a short winning time, probably isn't worth the effort. Maybe it would have been interesting to focus in the big route choice decision from the start triangle: left or right? The first starter went left, most of the rest seemed to go right. Perhaps the Czech commentary picked up on this. They certainly spotted Emil Wingstedt leaving out a control, although this led to little more than slightly raised voices talking a little faster than normal. We got to see people clearly running very fast and also clearly having to navigate very carefully. Overall I thought it was great, but I guess the question is whether it would attract non-orienteers.

In terms of results it looks like a game of two halves: men and women. For the men there were 11 countries in the top 12 places, with many of the lesser nations such as Slovakia, Lithuania, Austria and the Ukraine fighting for top places. Khramov and Hubmann were simply in a class of their own, but the next 30 runners finished within a minute. The women's results show a different pattern. In what should surely be the most open women's race of the Championships the top 17 places all went to runners from the traditional orienteering strongholds (allowing myself licence to include Great Britain and France in there). The first "minor" nation was China in 18th place. Two of the three Chinese women mispunched, but they can clearly run pretty fast. Surely the sprint will be where they finally break through, but how long will we have to wait?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Born to Run

So was JWOC the biggest thing to hit Gothenburg last week? To be honest it probably didn't even make it to top of the list of little things to hit Gothenburg last week. Dominating the city were two things: Bruce Springsteen playing two nights at the Ullevi Stadium as part of his latest World tour, and the Partille Cup. This seems to be the handball equivalent of O-Ringen, and had attracted 20,000 handball players from around the world. Walking around the city centre there were flags and banners publicising handball everywhere, as well as many teams all of whom seemed to be six inches taller than the average Swede. As for Bruce this seems to be the biggest thing that will happen to Gothenburg this year judging by the newspaper coverage it generated. Ironically some of the JWOC runners I talked to didn't even know who The Boss was, but he does let me get in one of the all-time classic orienteering song titles. For me he also provides one of my main memories of APOC 1990 in Canada when a "three in a row" slot on the radio featured Bruce as we travelled through Calgary.

But getting back to JWOC it was really business pretty much as usual for the Long and Relay. No great surprises at the front (other than possibly how close the men's Long race was), and another set of British results that were difficult to get excited about but equally weren't too bad. How many times have I said that about Brits at a World Championships? Given the other distractions in Gothenburg it was always going to be difficult to get much attention for JWOC. Even so it did seem to be a very small and inconspicuous event, and I was particularly surprised at how few Swedes turned up on home terrain to cheer on a stream of medals.

WOC 2008 starts tomorrow in the Czech Republic with the Sprint race. One question that does arise is to what extent success at JWOC feeds through into success at WOC. It seems clear that not every JWOC champion progresses to the very top level at senior level, and it is equally clear that success at JWOC is not necessary to make it to the top at WOC. Perhaps something to look at further when I have some time, but for now the real thing is about to start. Time for some serious internet spectating I think.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Fair to Middling

Another day of unbroken sunshine shone down on another small crowd at the JWOC Middle Race Final. The Danes re-appeared to make some noise, but the Swedes stayed away again, possibly because it was difficult to find out exactly what was going on and where. As Middle races go this was was rough, tough and technical. The courses were dominated by semi-open rocky ridges with legs across them requiring quite an effort to stay upright on the rocky surface as you scrambled up and down. Add in some bushy vegetation in places and it was perhaps unsuprising that the Scandinavians dominated the results, with the Swedes really getting it together on home terrain. For the Brits it wasn't the greatest of days, but then it wasn't the worst of days either. Let's see how the final two races turn out.

Loking at the results it was probably the French who had most to celebrate amongst the lesser nations, with a bronze medal plus a 10th in the Women's course. Perhaps Thierry has been passing on his secrets.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Qualified Success

GB JWOC 2008 Team signalling for help
After a brief interlude for the Model Event yesterday it was back to real business today with the Middle Race Qualifier. The Sprint and Long are run as straight finals (on the basis that there isn't time to stage the necessary qualification races) but the Middle has a proper Qualifier with the added pressure that brings. Nobody won a medal today, but some may have lost one by not making the final. The JWOC Rules allow everybody to run everything, so with a possible team of six men and six women several countries were aiming to get twelve runners into the A Final by finishing in the top 20 of their heat.

The sun shone down on the Race Arena in a shooting range that was doubling as a commercial stinging nettle plantation. As ever at Qualifiers the atmosphere was restrained, and even the Danish fans seemed to have stayed away for this one. The normal stream of runners emerged at various speeds down the hill and into the field, and the confident ones then jogged effortlessly to the Finish. For most people this was a last chance to pick up one or two seconds that might be vital at the end of the day, even if it would have been easier to save the one or two minutes that had disappeared at controls in the forest.

And as ever the question was simply how many people did you get in the final? A quick look at the results (helped by using some of the clever analysis features of Winsplits Pro) produced the table below. Norway managed a perfect 12 and I would probably have guessed the top eight countries correctly beforehand. Great Britain look to have had a pretty good day (helped by what seems to have been a late disqualification), and ended up doing better than the in-form Danes. Further down a few things strike me It seems odd that France only have a team of nine. Three Belarus qualifiers out of five looks like a pretty good performance. Canada and the Netherlands will probably be pretty pleased to get runners to an A Final, but Australia look like they had a bad day, especially when New Zealand ended up doing better. The Ukraine are probably the most surprising absentees from the A Final. And as a final note it seems like this is a very similar set of results to what you would get at a full World Championships. Is the terrain here in Sweden just too technical, or is there really no change in prospect to the world order just now?

Great Britain812
Czech Republic712
New Zealand210
South Africa02
Hong Kong05

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

JWOC (and Database) Up and Running

Here we go again with more reports from another World Championships – but this time it’s JWOC, the Junior World Orienteering Championships in Gothenburg. The first thing to say is that the Maprunner website has now been updated and includes a fully searchable JWOC Database in a similar format to the WOC Database.

This is my first time at a JWOC, and it’s not something I’d normally expect to be at. But next year I am the IOF Event Adviser for JWOC 2009 in Italy, so this is a chance to find out exactly what is needed and how JWOC differs from the World Championships themselves. A quick visit to the Event Centre at an army camp this morning felt almost as if nothing was happening, with little sign of what was going on other than in the Event Office. This had the normal stream of last-minute queries, plus a host of competitors and officials gathering to use the wireless internet access.

A short bus trip to the start area for the sprint race and things began to look a bit more hopeful. Teams were setting up tents around the start, even if things were still quite low-key. The ten minute walk to the Race Arena in a football stadium was surprising mainly because it was through a large wooded area with outcrops of bare rock and no sign of the “80% urban terrain” promised in the details. The Arena gradually filled up, and as we reached 12:30, first start time, it began to feel like something was happening. Even so there are very few people present, and to an outsider it’s probably quite difficult to work out what is going on.

The terrain from what can be seen near the finish turns out not to be anywhere near as “urban” as expected. Walking along the road that passed the last few controls on each course there were runners coming down quite steep semi-wooded rock outcrops to pick up the road on the way to controls spread around groups of cottages. Only those making mistakes (of which there seemed quite a few) ended up on the wrong side of the road and in the housing estates and car parks. Even the last control on the children’s play area caught some out as they ran around in the bushes behind it. Having had a chance to run the course later in the spectator race it turned out to be quite an interesting combination of houses surrounded by rocky outcrops and woodland.

Talking of the spectator race this would have been really quite a select event if it was really restricted to those who turned up to spectate, since the number of spectators was quite small. Apart from the expected small groups of proud parents the only real group to make their presence felt was from Denmark, and it was almost impossible to tell that the race was taking part in Sweden. Loud outbreaks of cheering, clapping and flag-waving met each Danish runner as they entered the football stadium and sprinted the final few metres on fast running provided by the artificial turf. The only thing to slow people down was the 90 degree bend they had to negotiate half way down the run-in. They then passed through the latest high-tech finish arch, which not only had a light beam for timing but also a magic device to read the runner number from the bib. Final details asked runners to use eight safety pins to ensure the bib stayed on during the race. The good news for the Danes was that all their noise had the desired effect, with gold for Emma Klingenberg in the women’s race and bronze in the men’s race. Stephan Kodeda of the Czech Republic won the men’s race, with six different countries represented in the top six including a notable fifth place for Andrea Seppi of Italy.

And then it was off (via a complicated arrangement of buses and trams) to the Liseberg amusement park for the opening ceremony. Being a true connoisseur of such things, this got several aspects right including being relatively short and avoiding the temptation to display any form of traditional dance activity. What it did have was a very loud rock band and a lot of bemused locals looking on as they tried to work out what was going on. It also had Kent Olsson to declare JWOC open, looking somewhat older and larger than I remember him. He was World Champion in the Classic Race in 1987 in France. I know. I was there.