Monday, July 03, 2017

WOC 2017 Sprint Relay: So near

Ralph deciding on the "round" route choice
Tartu done: now to set off to some other corners of Estonia for the rest of WOC 2017. The easy bit should be getting the city bus to the school from which our bus to the event leaves. The Australian in the queue ahead of us swipes her shiny new travel pass on the reader: bus says no. James tries his shiny new card: bus says no. I try mine: bus says no. Lots of Estonians point and chatter: locals say yes, bus driver shows no interest, so we just sit down and off we go. Two Chinese orienteers get on at the next stop and the bus maintains neutrality by saying no to them as well.

By the time we get to the school 10 minutes later the we have been joined by five or six others all looking like they might be about to go orienteering. A coach turns up, we all get on along with a handful of event officials wearing the official sky-blue shirts, and then 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time it leaves. If I'd been doing my normal thing we'd have missed it. Anyway, we set off on what turns out to be a one hour drive to Viljandi (advertised time 90 minutes). Highlight of the trip was the sighting of a stork followed by another stork followed by another stork followed by another stork. Pretty much like red kites on the M40.

We arrived just in time for the press briefing for the sprint relay, grabbed a map each and tried to work out where to go for the best pictures. Just time to do a quick look around the castle area before the relay starts. The scenery turns out to be spectacular, and the sun has even come out. The area looks fantastic for a sprint relay, although extremely steep in places. We examine the route down into the valley on the way to 14 on the men's course: very steep, covered in knee- to waist-high vegetation, with small stones on the surface just for fun. Or you could run three time as far but save all the down and up by heading for a bridge a very long way off the straight line. The organiser's have helpfully posted a First Aider at the top of the slope, presumably to treat cases of shock in spectators as they watch runners fall into the chasm.

The race passes in a blur as James and I run backwards and forwards trying to get photos of important things. He does the start, I do the runners at the first control, he gets them on the bridge into the town, I get the spectator run-through, and we're still only half-way through lap one of four. This continues for the next hour. As predicted, the "down the vertical boulder field or the long way round over the bridge" proves a difficult decision. We have pictures of Ralph looking into the valley and then deciding he doesn't fancy it. Straight is great, but round is sound and Ralph hands over to Kris in second place. Game on.

Kris is leading by the second control, and still leading at control 13. This is the leg. Kris and Ralph had apparently discussed this as a possible option beforehand, and both had agreed that the bridge might be best. Kris sticks to the plan and sets off over the bridge. At which point the day starts to go not so well. Watching the GPS track on the big screen in the arena it suddenly became clear that Kris was in trouble, disoriented by runners on the other gaffle, the vague contours and the low visibility. His trace does a slow loop of the wrong hill. Switzerland are in trouble as well, and the Swiss track is stationary for ages before setting off to the same control as Kris. They punch together, but then drop a few more seconds leading each other astray on the way to 15. And by now Sweden have got a clear lead, and the Czech Republic, Denmark and Russia have got past as well. Kris storms down the hill to hand over in sixth place, still only 1.56 down, but leaving Tessa with mountains to climb, both literally and metaphorically.

Tessa put in a great run, but never quite got in contact with the runners ahead, so GB had to settle for sixth place. Sweden held on to the lead, Maja Alm rescued a silver medal for Denmark, and Switzerland just managed to take bronze away from the Czech Republic.

With the main action over I rush back to the media centre, get changed and jog to the start of the spectator race. Five minute delay on the way as I bump into the GB team plus supporters and grab a quick chat with Tessa and Cat. I arrived two minutes early for my call-up only to discover that all starts are put back 30 minutes. I use the time by going back to the media centre to start sorting through photos. When I finally get started I manage a reasonable run round, including a visit to the critical wooded area. This reminded me strongly of the middle distance areas at WOC 2007 around Kiev, with vague contour detail hidden by quite thick vegetation and undergrowth. I managed to run within 10 metres of my control in a re-entrant without seeing the re-entrant, let alone the flag. After that it was a flog up the big hill, and quick run through the castle and then a loop around the town to finish. Very pleasant, though we avoided too may legs across the big earthworks, so the climb wasn't too bad.

James is just starting as I finish, and reappears as expected about 20 minutes later. Just time to grab our bags before the media centre is locked up, and then it's hunt the bus time. There is no sign of it where we were dropped off, or where the "Bus stop" sign had been, so we head back to Enquiries. They seem reasonably certain it will leave at 9.30, and finally work out where it will go from. The small group of people standing on the relevant street corner grows gradually bigger and more international , before eventually a bus does indeed appear and fears of a repeat of the WOC 2007 bus chaos recede.

The journey back to Tartu is just long enough to finish sorting photos and draft an article for the BOF website, but we get back so late that the last bus home has gone so we set off on the 30 minute walk home. After about 10 minutes we get to a bus stop showing that the bus we want will arrive in 3 minutes, so we risk waiting and cheer as it appears. The bus has obviously had the necessary talking to and now says yes to both our cards. And then there's just time to finish the BOF article and post it and upload some photos and suddenly it's 1.00 a.m.the next day. Lucky it's a rest day, because we have had no rest so far.

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