Friday, June 30, 2017

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.

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