On Saturday I got home in time to watch the start of the women’s relay at the World Championships. Britain has a good women’s squad and there was a good chance we could outdo our (in my opinion) #8 ranking: Cat is suddenly one of the world’s top orienteers, and Hollie and Claire are not far behind. What’s more, they (H & C) had run in the same terrain the day before so knew what to expect.

It was a great race, even watching it in Finnish! Cat pushed her way to the front right at the beginning, but then we didn’t see her on the tracking till suddenly there she was, in the lead! The camera was broken at the TV control but the info came through that she was in 2nd as the long leg loomed. Finally, after 23 minutes, a TV control with a camera that worked, and who’s coming through the trees? Cat! A 10 seconds lead. I love the suspense in orienteering – in other sports you always know who’s where, but we have the joy of watching live TV pictures of trees moving imperceptibly in the slight breeze, for many seconds, sometimes minutes! anticipating a runner or two coming into view for five seconds or so, and the strange mystique of their name (or their country’s name) and deficit appearing on the screen before we’re left alone with the trees again.

catcat2

Cat was overtaken by Venla Niemi, the Finnish sprint medallist, but only just, and Cat handed over to Hollie just a few seconds behind. Now Hollie was running well too. Still in the leading pack, still attracting the interest of the commentators. She fell a minute or two behind, partly because of the gaffling, and Norway got a minute or so lead, partly because of the gaffling.

During Hollie’s run the Yle presenter interviewed Cat – what a lovely person! and the commentators picked up on the fact that she talked about the team not screwing up. 😮

Something I need to say before I forget is that this was some of the greenest white forest I’ve ever seen! Every TV control seemed to be in the middle of a jungle, with runners ducking and twisting to get through, and squinting at their maps in the gloom. And this fact is probably connected to the tragic denouement of this story. Hollie handed over to Claire in 5th place, just 23 seconds off Bronze. And then the race, which had already begun to get a bit surreal at the 7th control for the 2nd leg runners, went weird. (I seem to remember similar surreal endings to a couple of other women’s relays.) Denmark made a big mistake, and then Sweden made a big mistake, and for a few joyous seconds Britain, I mean Claire, was up into 3rd! She seemed to have punched the 2nd control, and the commentators thought so too, but what’s this? She’s turned back! She missed it, by about 10 metres. 😦 And then she missed it again. :-(( And by the time she got it, the Russians and Czechs had caught up with her and she was back in 6th or 7th. Crazy. After that shocker, Claire went to pieces a bit, and I don’t blame her. But she held it together enough to come home in 8th place, 9 seconds ahead of Ukraine, securing the British women’s place in the premier league.

claire miss

At this point I must give a small boo (and a big cheer) to British Orienteering. The big cheer is for being part of a national orienteering team that consistently produces world-class orienteers from a country with a small base and grotty forests. The small boo is for the news release on the website about the relays. After a thorough description of events, it finishes with this terse paragraph:

“Hollie handed over in 5th place and Claire Ward, running last leg, brought the team home in 8th.”

There’s such a thing as damning with faint praise, but that’s damning with no praise at all, and unfair on Claire who, if she’d been 10 metres to the north, might now be a national hero.

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