Friday, June 30, 2017

WOC and roll

C-JAM putting the WOC in rock and roll
I consider myself something of a connoisseur of WOC opening ceremonies, even if I need to look up the spelling before committing it to keypad. I particularly remember some corner of a far-flung Norwegian hillside that was forever and forever and forever Norway. That and the sky-diver at WOC 1999 in Scotland.

What we have just had in Estonia is going to be right up there with the most memorable. The large town square seemed almost devoid of people, even some minutes past the official starting time. After we'd been there about 20 minutes our recycled GB flag on a stick from WOC in Scotland 2015 was in third place in the "biggest flag in the crowd" category behind the Swiss and Swedes, mainly because these were the only three flags that I could see. Gradually more people drifted in, and then a distant thumping sound signified something might be about to happen, The thumping sound grew gradually larger until a lorry appeared in the far distance with two extremely large speakers on it blaring out some random Estonian tune of the moment, and a long trail of flags and orienteers behind it.

And then something happened to confirm this really was WOC. Per Forsberg bounced onto the stage and started announcing the teams as they made it into the square. Ever the professional, not once did he succumb to the temptation of querying the delay in proceedings with a trademark "I think he's too late". The parade was somewhat underwhelming. As ever the number of athletes was quite small, since people don't want to stand around all night when they have races to run. But at least we could watch as teams like Cyprus, Chile, Egypt and North Korea marched past. The teams formed up around the fountain at the top of the square with Tartu Town Hall in the background, and the assembled crowd (which by now just about deserved that term) formed around them.

After that we had the normal sorts of speeches (although commendably short) from IOF President
Leho Haldna, who turns out to be from Tartu, and then impressively from Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid. She managed to drop in various interesting facts about Estonia, including the surprisingly low population of just over a million.

So very quickly we had talked the talk and raised the flag and we were on to the entertainment. Which turned out to be a cello quartet called C-Jam. Who played cover versions of rock songs. Starting with "Highway to Hell" by ACDC. Followed by "Whatever You Want" by Status Quo. And finishing with the age-old string quartet crowd-pleaser "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana. Watched by the North Korean orienteering team. In a town square in the middle of Estonia. Next they'll be telling you that Donald Trump is President of America.

Top that Latvia (WOC 2018 if you hadn't heard). All that remained was for the teams that had made it to take various team photographs and then it was off home to recover in time for tomorrow's sprint races (one for us mortals, one for the superstars).

Gallia est omnis divisa in tres partes

To get in the mood for something that might make an appearance tomorrow, we start with a Latin quote. “All Gaul is divided into three parts” according to Julius Caesar ('De Bello Gallico', Part 1, but wasn't Part 2 much better?) Wilson Hinkley, a geologist, noted that these were igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic. But for our purposes, we are more interested in the three parts that WOC countries can be divided into when you look at the overall WOC medal table. (I realise this analysis struggles to cope with the break-up of countries since the late 1980s, but I think it is still a reasonable way of looking at things).

The first part consist of four countries, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Finland, who between them have won 480 WOC medals (158 gold, 167 silver and 155 bronze). They expect to win medals (note the plural) at pretty much every WOC, and when they don't there are questions asked.

The second part consists of five countries; Russia, Czech Republic, France, Denmark and, to be a little generous, Great Britain. These countries have won 115 WOC medals (41 gold, 34 silver and 40 bronze). They pick up a steady stream of medals, but it is still reasonable cause for celebration when it happens.

The third part consists of the remaining eight countries: Hungary, Ukraine, Latvia, Austria, Soviet Union, Australia, Belorussia, Germany and Italy. These countries have won 23 WOC medals (7 gold, 5 silver and 11 bronze). In many cases they are down to a single athlete putting it all together when it counts (such as Hanny Alston for Australia and Lucie Böhm for Austria). When these medals arrive it is party time for real.

What does this tell us about WOC 2017? The same four countries will take most of the medals. It will be a surprise, but not much of one, if GB can grab a medal. And we might see some new teams make it into the third part.There are two obvious candidates. First could be Belgium, with Yannick Michiels in the Sprint race. Secondly I’d go for Canada, where EmilyKemp continues to put in impressive performances and has been close before. After that who knows, but maybe an Estonian on home soil could do something special. But remember I spent a long time predicting that China would become a force to reckon with, and it hasn't really turned out that way.

So for the GB supporter you are left hoping we can reinforce our standing in the second tier of the table, but knowing that medals at World Championships are hard to get. If you look at the British medals to date there are some that we always knew would happen (Yvette and Jamie), some that we hoped would happen (Heather finally getting there in Japan, and Scott) and some that were a bit of a surprise (in which category I would put all three Men’s relay medals). This week I'd say there are two clear chances for a GB medal: Kris Jones in the Men's Sprint (if has recovered from recent injury), and the Mixed Sprint Relay team. Unfortunately the competition in both these races is very strong, lots of other countries think they will be taking the medals, and top six on the day could still be an excellent result. Of the other outside possibilities I'd go for the Men's Relay, after two years of being fourth.

Later in the week I'll look at how to work out how well we are doing even if we don't win any medals. The easy starting point is to see all runners qualify for the final. Job done in the Sprint. But for now, let the games begin.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Missing Years

Mike Edwards spectating from the Commentary Box at WOC 2015
This blog started out to cover WOC 2006 in Denmark, and early posts covered WOC history to that date. Team Errington made it to the Ukraine for WOC 2007, but I've written nothing since the World Championships in the Czech Republic back in 2008, where Jamie, Jon and GG took an unexpected gold medal in the relay after Thierry's unfortunate meeting with a bee meant that he missed out on his first gold relay medal. So before things get started in Estonia on Friday there is just time for a quick look back at what the GB WOC supporters have had to get excited about over the past nine years.

WOC 2009: Miskolc, Hungary

GG, Scott Fraser and Pippa Whitehouse made the top 20 in a rather strange sprint race that was mostly in forest. GG was 9th in the Men's Long. But the talking point of the year was the Men's Relay. Swedish runner Martin Johansson was seriously injured after getting a stick impaled in his leg whilst in the lead on the last leg. France, Norway and the Czech Republic all stopped to help him, and Thierry had found a new way of not winning a WOC relay gold.

WOC 2010: Trondheim, Norway

GB performance of the week was Scott Fraser taking sixth in the Long: still our best male performance, with only Jamie Stevenson and GG having also made the top ten. Pippa Archer, Sarah Rollins and Helen Bridle all made the top 20 in the Women's Sprint. The men took fourth in the relay after Thierry had found yet another new way of not winning a WOC relay gold. This time he was in the lead half way round the last leg when he ran straight past the control before the spectator run-through. The crowd soon told him of his mistake, but running back to get the control left France in sixth.

WOC 2011: Savoie Grand Revard, France

The French found some crazily complex terrain and then set Thierry on it. He won the Middle race by over two minutes, the Long race by over four minutes and finally picked up a Relay gold as well.

British highlight of the week was the Men's Sprint, with GG an agonising fourth, Scott Fraser ninth and Murray Strain 12th.

WOC 2012: Lausanne, Switzerland

Switzerland is where Jamie Stevenson took gold in the Sprint at WOC 2003. It was a case of oh so near in 2012, as Scott Fraser ended up fourth, behind three Swiss men all called Matthias. Claire Ward was seventh and Tessa Hill 12th in the Women's Sprint.

Surprise of the week was probably Switzerland failing to take a medal in the Men's Relay (that's what you get if you only pick two people called Matthias), with victory going to the Czech Republic. Individual performance of the week definitely went to Edgars Bertuks who won Latvia's first WOC medals with gold in the Middle race and bronze in the Long race.

WOC 2013: Vuokatti, Finland

Finally the near misses ended, GB had another WOC medal to celebrate, and Scott Fraser came home with a silver from the Sprint. Murray Strain was ninth and Kris Jones 16th, and Tessa Strain showed the Women were world-class as well taking fifth, with Sarah Rollins in 20th. Cat Taylor snuck into the top ten in the Women's long.

For Sarah Rollins it was her 11th and final WOC; a new GB record at the time but now having been overtaken by GG who will be at his 13th WOC in Estonia. And this was also Simone Niggli's 11th and final WOC. She only managed the three gold medals this time, but that made it a career total of 23 gold, two silver and six bronze.

WOC 2014: Trentino-Veneto, Italy

The Italians somehow managed to hold the Sprint races in Venice. Murray Strain was 13th and Kris Jones was 18th in the Men's Sprint, and Tessa Hill was 12th in the Women's Sprint. Elsewhere there was a better than normal set of top-20 results for Hector Haines (12th in Men's Middle), GG (20th in Men's Long), Claire Ward (12th in Women's Middle) and Cat Taylor (19th in Women's Long).

2014 also saw the first appearance of the Mixed Sprint Relay, with teams of two men and two women. If you have been paying attention you will realise this would seem to be playing to GB's strengths. Cat Taylor, Kris Jones, Murray Strain and Tessa Hill came home in sixth place. On a personal note, it was good to see the Russians taking a bronze medal. I first met Gleb Tikhonov (or rather his parents)  on a boat on a canal outside Moscow in 1994 when he was still in a pushchair.

WOC 2015: Inverness, Great Britain

Back on home terrain for a third time, including a third trip to Darnaway, this time for the Middle and Relay races. The British team put in a very strong set of results and did pretty much everything but win a medal. There were top 20 results in every race, with the highlights being fourth in the Men's Relay, where Ralph Street couldn't quite hold on for a medal on the last leg, and Cat Taylor's fifth in the Women's Middle (with Jess Tullie in 17th) and 6th in the Women's Long. Yet again the Men's Sprint produced three top-20 places (Kris Jones eighth, Scott Fraser 13th and Murray Strain 18th) and Charlotte Ward was 17th in the Women's Sprint. And Hector Haines and GG did the double in the Men's Middle (10th and 20th) and Men's Long (17th and 18th ).

WOC 2016: Strömstad-Tanum, Sweden

I was really struggling to remember much about this, but as ever Jan Kocbach on World of O came to the rescue. Kris Jones led the way for GB with fourth in the Men's Sprint, with Ralph Street in 17th. The Mixed Sprint Relay team got it together and ended up fourth as well, and so did the Men's Relay team. Three fourths is difficult to celebrate, and other top 20 finishes were fewer than recent years, with  Hector Haines 19th on the Men's Long and GG 19th on the Men's Middle. And a new country took a first medal, when Anastasia Denisova from Belarus took third place in the Women's Sprint.

So that's the past eight years dealt with. Next it will be time to look forward to what might happen this year.

Monday, June 26, 2017

As I Was Saying

Mystery OOM Map Extract
So, parkrun. Any future in it? Five years ago I tried it for the first time. Since then it has grown and grown, and my personal tally now stands at 32 races and I'm wondering how long it will take me to get to 50. We are spoilt for choice around here, and Verulamium has been joined by Ellenbrook Fields, Panshanger Park, Cassiobury, Gadebridge and Fairlands Valley, all within 20 kilometres of St Albans (and all mapped Hertfordshire Orientering Club areas as well). Still a simple concept, brilliantly executed.

Meanwhile back at orienteering, another of the things I wrote about was OpenOrienteeringMap. This is still going strong as well, and has a solid user base in this country, and the unbelievable ability to generate an orienteering map of just about anywhere in the world. A small prize if anyone finds me and can say where the map extract is from. Anyway, Hertfordshire Orienteering Club now have a Tuesday night series of 45 minute score events throughout the summer, most of which use OOM. You can see examples on HH Routegadget site, like this race in St Albans, and this one in Hertford. Numbers at these Tuesday night events are gradually moving up, and what started with 10 as a good turnout now sees 20 or more most evenings. What's even more encouraging is that quite a lot of these are complete newcomers to the sport.

And that has conveniently dragged Routegadget into the conversation. Back in 2013 I was somehow talked into trying to implement a Javascript version of what was originally a Java application. (Nerd humour alert: Java is to Javascript as Ham is to Hamster. Or Car is to Carpet. Or various other versions I'm sure.) Routegadget needs a few pages of its own, so we'll leave it there for now.

But now we must return to where this blog started: the World Orienteering Championships. This year WOC is in Estonia.  I've never orienteered in Estonia. James fancied going somewhere to fill up the long summer holiday. And so we're off to Estonia on Friday to follow the GB team, and sample the delights of some maps that have quite a lot of brown (with some interesting contour detail) but possibly more green and blue than is ideal. Time to get back into spectator-geek mode. Watch this space.