World Champs 1997 - Grimstad, Norway

(Reproduced from Lokation 114, November 1997)

This is the story of three intrepid adventurers who set out on a WOC99 fact-finding mission to this year’s World Championships in Norway. Read on to find out how David May (SLOW) and Helen and Simon Errington (LOK) got an alternative view of WOC97 from the inside.

Sunday 10 August

The flight to Oslo from Heathrow was uneventful, and left a mere 300 kilometre drive to reach the opening ceremony. The 90 kph speed limit made this a somewhat dull afternoon, and we soon worked out we weren’t going to make the start of the ceremony at 18.00. Our arrival was further delayed by trusting the road signs. We followed a ‘WOC 99 Arena’ sign on the outskirts of Grimstad and duly arrived at the car park for the spectator race that had taken place that morning Retracing our route we finally found the centre of the town, and walked up the hill to the sports stadium, arriving in the middle of the ceremony. In true Norwegian fashion this proved a little impenetrable, and bore startling similarities to the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer which left David Coleman struggling for words to explain what the pixies were doing. Dick Carmichael suggested that what we were seeing was the history of human evolution from the primeval swamp: in real time.

Monday 11 August

The Classic Distance qualifier. This was held in a forest on the edge of the town, with the finish in a horticultural school, surrounded by flowers and vegetables. The weather was hot and sunny, as it would be for the whole week. The main topic of interest in the finish field was the tapes leading away from the last control. A significant number of runners started following these the wrong way.

Full commentary was provided on the progress of each qualifying race, and this introduced us to two further features of the week. First there was the frequent playing of the WOC 97 song, soon to become known as ‘Bushmen’. (A guaranteed Eurovision winner with a chorus starting ‘We are bushmen, all we wanna do, is sweat our way through the woods’.) Then we had the first taste of orienteering as a radio sport. Someone was hidden somewhere in the forest with a mobile phone, and proceeded to provide ‘live’ commentary as runners passed. Initially this seemed like a gimmick, but during the week it became a fascinating way of learning how the race was proceeding. It’s difficult to explain, but listening to orienteers make mistakes on radio can actually be very entertaining.

As to results. it was a good day for the Brits, with all four men and four women qualifying for the finals. That afternoon was another spectator race. Our first taste of Norwegian wood showed it to be physically tough with steep hills, lots of rock and low visibility due to the scrub oak. After the race we had a WOC 99 meeting to sort out who is doing what for the rest of the week. A major topic for debate was whether we could get a bagpiper for the last few days, to make a bit of an impression. The event centre had a huge WOC 99 display as well as a special video showing what people can expect. We also had a tent at each event with more displays and brochures to hand out.

Tuesday 12 August

The Classic Distance Final. Back to the previous day’s finish area, for more of the same. The Norwegians dominate the event, with Petter Thoresen winning the men’s race and Hanne Staff winning the women’s race. The Brits missed the medals, but packed well and overall the results were some of the best ever.

Wednesday 13 August

Spectator races. I was nearly first off, and discovered that if I could finish in under 75 minutes then I would just have time to run the IOF guest race as well. This was quite a challenge for 6 kilometres, especially after a five-minute error at number three, but I managed to complete the rest of the course with no problems and finished in 70 minutes. Just time to run back to the start, register and set off on the ‘medium’ IOF race. This turned out to be three kilometres of only light green standard. Even so you still have to think when leaving the paths.

The main interest was that the whole race was timed electronically using the e-card: your start time is simply the time at which you lift your card from the start control, and your finish time is when you punch the control on the finish line. The British put up a strong performance, with Nik Pugh winning the course, me coming fourth and David May ninth. After this there was a choice of activities. I headed back to the event centre for a hard afternoon of technical meetings. Helen headed for the beach to attend the traditional British squad picnic.

I joined several other Brits in a meeting to discuss electronic punching systems in general, and the experience of the Emit punching system in Norway in particular. This provided many very interesting insights into what we might be able to do in Great Britain. After the formal meeting David Rosen and I spent a long time discussing details of the Sport-Ident system with their representatives. This concentrated on the requirements to get approval for the system, with a view to using it for the British and Irish World Cups in 1998, and also possibly for WOC 99. We provisionally agreed to a demonstration race in Britain, to take place at the LOK Short Race at Wisley in December.

Thursday 14 August

The Short Distance races. The format was a qualifying race in the morning and then a final in the afternoon. The morning race was hectic, with runners streaming into the finish in quick succession. The top 15 runners from each of four men’s races and four women’s races made the final. Yvette Hague cruised in to win her heat, Steve Hale and Steve Palmer were right up there, but Heather Monro was left sweating it out after a big mistake. She was eventually the last qualifier from her heat, and had the dubious privilege of being first starter in the afternoon. Kim Buckley had a great run to make the final. Marcus Pinker grabbed a place for the Irish.

There was just time for a quick swim before moving a few kilometres up the road to the finish area for the final. If you set out to build a finish field this would be a pretty good outcome. Somehow the Norwegians had found a long narrow re-entrant, with steep grassy slopes on either side for spectators. You could sit looking down into the re-entrant as finishers slogged up the gentle slope to the finish line. Away in the distance was a block of forest with the final controls in it, and a field crossing so that you could see runners a few minutes before they reached the finish. Heather started first and finished first, but was unimpressed with her run and the forest in general. A brief radio interview will be remembered by those who heard it, and introduced a new adjective to many.

There was a fairly constant stream of finishers. Jorgen Martensson led the men’s race for a long time, mainly because of his early start following a mistake in the qualifier. But eventually it was last starter, Janne Salmi of Finland who came home to win. The women’s race was also won by the last starter in what may be the result of the week. Austria’s first ever medal was gold, and went to Lucie Bohm. Reigning champion Marie-Luce Romanens of Switzerland went away thinking she was fourth, missing a medal by only a second. Later that evening the jury changed her time and awarded her joint third place. This was just one of many jury decisions that were needed throughout the week.

Friday 15 August

Spectator races. Your chance to see if you can scrape in ahead of the Portuguese and Israelis. I could. Just. That afternoon there is an official WOC 99 presentation. We managed to fill the meeting room, and explained how wonderful Scotland will be. The evening turned into a three-hour meeting as we talked through what was needed on the computing front for WOC 99.

Saturday 16 August

The Relays. Unsurprisingly, the relay changeover field was in the same place as the short race finish, although the courses were mainly in the forest to the north. The women started first. Sweden continued their domination of this race, and won with ease. Una Creagh on the first leg for Ireland had one of those days that everyone has now and again. Things got worse when Nuala Higgins missed out a control and the team was disqualified. Julie Cleary was waiting to run the last leg, but was not allowed to start At least the Irish were in good company. The Swedish men managed to do the same thing. They were in the lead by five minutes when their final leg runner was pulled out of the race at the spectator control on the last leg. This set up a real finish, with Denmark gradually catching Finland, but running out of time. As the runners emerged from the forest it was the Danish fans that were cheering, and the Danes won by under a minute.

The Brits had a pretty good day, with the women fourth all the way to the last few kilometres when they dropped to fifth. The men managed to finish sixth. The Australian women finished sixth, having overtaken New Zealand on the last leg. Whilst all this was going on, Ned Paul and I spent a long time talking to Anders Vestergard, one of the organisers of the Park World Tour. We were trying to determine what we need to do to get awarded one of the 1999 races for London. It became obvious that PWT is all about publicity and media, with the orienteering being almost a side issue. Ned and I went away to discuss tactics, debating the relative merits of Hampstead Heath, Hyde Park, Battersea Park, Kew Gardens, Legoland, Chessington World of Adventure and numerous other possible venues.

That evening was the relay prize giving in the town square, which included a small presentation of the Scottish video. The piper had finally arrived, and led the crowd through the town centre to catch buses to the banquet. This was in an enormous sports hall, and was attended by nearly all the competitors, team managers and other assorted important people, including over 20 WOC 99 people. Following an impressive sea food buffet there were the normal speeches, and the IOF flag was handed over to Tim Pugh for the next two years. We staged an impromptu march onto the stage, led by the bagpiper, and led the audience in an entertaining attempt at ‘Auld lang syne’. Then it was down to the harbour for a firework display at midnight, and that was that for another year.

Sunday 17 August

Time to go home. The drive back to Oslo was uneventful. We met the Swedish team in the airport. I wondered where they had put their medals, and if they showed up on the X-ray, but we didn’t find out. And then a final memory from WOC 97. Jorgen Martensson stood behind me in the queue for coffee, and ordered exactly the same things as I had: capucinno and waffles for those who need to know. At least I eat like a champion. Only two more years and it’ll be our turn in Scotland.