I must admit that I am a bit of a World Championships addict. The first one I attended was France in 1987 and I have been to every one since. WOC 93 in the United States was therefore my fourth.
As an experienced British supporter there are certain things you get to expect. Firstly the areas selected will be well below the best available in the country concerned. Secondly there will be huge anticipation that this year the British will really get it together and put a relay team in the top five, but at the end of the day we still only just scrape in ahead of the Australians back in seventh or eighth place. Thirdly everyone will agree that this year Yvette Hague will win a medal, and no-one can ever explain what went wrong when this doesn’t happen.
America broke the sequence on all three counts. The areas used were as good as anywhere in the world. The British men got it together so well that not only did they beat the Australians but also beat the Swedes, Finns and Norwegians to take silver, only 15 seconds behind the Swiss. And Yvette finally got her individual medal, finishing third in the classic race.
But before the details, I have to say something about the events as a whole. When the Americans were awarded WOC93 there was a certain element of risk in sending such a large event to a country where the sport had so few participants. Over the past few years, as the organisation proceeded, there were all sorts of problems, both financial and logistical, that had to be overcome. When the time finally arrived this was by far the best WOC that I have ever been to. Not only that but there were five days of orienteering for spectators at the same time, each day being roughly equivalent in size to a National Event. Underneath the surface there was panic. Looking in from the outside the whole week was a fantastic experience. The Americans could not possibly have done any better. This is the event that Future WOC organisers must aspire to. Very few will be able to match what the Americans provided.
And so to the event reports. There was a total of four races, spread over seven days. There were also five races for spectators, giving them a chance to run on all the World Champs maps. All of the areas used were in Harriman State Park, about 30 miles north of New York. Unbelievably, all of the areas adjoined and all were superb for orienteering Not only that, but the organisers could use two enormous car parks, built to deal with the New York crowds who escape here in summer to swim in the lakes. Every area included detailed contours, extensive rock and scattered vegetation, and all provided fast and challenging orienteering.
Day 1 was the short course qualifying race. Each country could enter up to five men and five women. There were then five men’s races and five women’s races. The top ten in each race qualified for the A final, the next ten for the B final and anyone else went to the C final. For the top runners this was just a steady jog but it got very tight on some courses. Jon Musgrave missed out on the A final by seconds, despite being only two and a half minutes off the winner. Seven of the Brits made it to the A finals. Eight of the Irish, including Julie, made it to the B final.
The final was the next day. At the front of the field the men were doing five minutes a kilometre over extremely rough terrain, and the women weren’t going much slower. Yvette Hague managed 9th place as one of only two non-Scandinavians in the top ten, just 1.39 behind the winner, Anna Bogren of Sweden. The men’s “A” race provided the most excitement. It was obviously going to be tight at the top but it began to get ridiculous. Steve Hale was announced at the last control in a very fast time, and hammered down the run-in. We all thought he’d missed it, but the announcer gave his time as equal first. Then a Swede came in one second faster. At this point there ten men separated by 23 seconds. Would Hale get a medal? It was not to be, as first Timo Karpinnen of Finland and then Petter Thoresen of Norway came in ahead of the pack. So Hale missed a medal by one second and Steve Palmer had to he content with 18th place despite being only 1.57 down.
There is a separate report on the individual race. As you will find I didn’t really see much of the race as it developed but the area certainly seems to have sorted people out. Many people came back saying that they had never seen an area like it. I can certainly agree with that, having run on the map later in the week. The top of the mountain was covered in bare rock and dead trees, which had been killed by fire. It was perhaps hardly surprising that the Finnish women did so well. Their comment on the area was that “it’s just like Finland even down to the constant rain”. All that this proves is that you have to have been on areas like this a great deal before you will be able to do well. There is no way you can just turn up and get results. In general the results were pretty much as expected. The Scandinavians dominated. Mogensen’s gold was a great achievement, but everyone knew he could run fast. Yvette’s medal was no real surprise. Steve Palmer’s 15th was a very good run indeed as was Jenny James’s 16th.
At past World.Champs these would have been seen as excellent results for the Brits, but it looks like we are getting past that stage. Hale’s 28th was disappointing, especially since it all went at one control. He was running as fast as the leaders except for a single leg through the complicated bit on top. The story is that he ran nearly a kilometre to relocate, losing about seven minutes.
And so to the relays. Switzerland scraped a last leg victory in the men’s race two years ago. Could they do it again? Could the Finnish women repeat their individual form, or would it be Sweden or Norway at the front as usual? The area was rocky, hilly, and covered in a lot of very thick vegetation. Everyone should he used to that by now. The Norwegians were looking for compensation for a poor week so far. Would this be it?
The women’s race turned into a bit of a procession. The Swedes and Norwegians got away from the field and never looked in trouble. Sweden gradually edged away to take gold, Norway took silver and the Finns had to settle for bronze.
But it was the men’s race that kept the crowd on edge all morning. After the first leg there were 35 seconds separating the top 6, with Jon Musgrave for Great Britain a further 1.22 down in seventh. Main talking point was Rolf Vestre of Norway who came in 5.09 down in 17th place. Surely they couldn’t recover from that.
After two legs the Swedes, Finns and Swiss were still within 1.22. Martin Bagness for Great Britain had dropped to tenth and Norway had recovered to eighth. And then it started to happen on leg three. The Swedes lost five minutes, the Swiss got into the lead, and Steve Palmer ran the fastest leg of the day so far to take Great Britain to fifth, 6.27 down and only 1.36 off third place and a medal. If Hale was ever going to do it, this was the chance.
The radio controls started to give the news. The Swiss were leading, the Finns were still there but Hale was flying and had got through to third. A medal looked on. The last radio control, just a kilometre from the end was even better. Hale had caught the Finn and was catching the Swiss. Every Brit at the event was there watching the edge of the forest. A red O-suit appeared. It was the Swiss runner. Polite applause rang out. And then, just thirty seconds down, there was the red, white and blue of Hale. The Americans were treated to a classic example of ‘the crowd going wild’. The Swiss runner looked extremely tired on the run-in, and Hale got closer and closer, putting in the fastest time of the day, but the finish came just too early. Britain took silver, a mere 15 seconds from gold. Behind came the Finns, Swedes, Russians and Norwegians.
Will it be the same story in Germany in 1995?