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CUOC goes to EUOC

EUOC, not to be confused with EUOC, is good fun. Yes, this year's European University Orienteering Championships, with it's notable absence of those reading their degrees North of the border, was a great success for our esteemed club, a success which will be discussed forthwith.

It was five intrepid (for how else should a CUOC website report describe its members) CUOC members who assembled in the old mining city of St Gallen to compete for the light blue against some of Europe's finest university orienteering clubs, and also Oxford. Peter and James, fresh off a training tour (the details of which are expounded in a previous edition) were first to arrive. As is now established tradition in the club, the Forgery Act 1913 was swiftly violated to allow the smoother operation of club administration, and maps firmly in hand, they were taken to their hotel by the team attaché. To our not insubstantial chagrin, this would prove to be our final encounter with said attaché, but presently blind to this fact, we enjoyed the thin facade of luxury in which the Swiss opt to enshroud their event organisation.

Any idea that the orienteering might be as smooth as the transmission on our attaché's Mazda was quickly dismissed upon our arrival at the middle model area. Vegetation and mapping quality alike had us scraping the metaphorical barrel of metaphors - a slope as steep as a Swiss public transport ticket, a block of green as enjoyable as a night out in Cambuslang; a pit mapped with all the conviction of a JCR president. Upon request for further comment on the terrain, James opted for 'no', while Anna, who for narrative reasons has now arrived at the area, opted for "thanks, I hate it". Every non-English speaker had understood from the programme that showers were available at the model area, but your CUOC delegation found no evidence for this, and so thanks to the aforeunmentioned Saharan heat, a very smelly and poorly-dressed return through the city centre was in order. The fashionistas of St Gallen city centre (a trendy area first settled by the Greeks in around 800 BC) were, it's fair to say, less than impressed by the DRONGO mesh and full Kalevan kit on offer.

The next day - by which time Kevin, Tom and Anna had all arrived in both human and literary form - we went to the sprint model, where very little happened. Peter found plenty of controls and declared at our evening meeting that 'at the end of the day it's just a sprint, we've all done it before, and we all know what we're doing'. Reader, this is foreshadowing. The opening ceremony featured yodelling, which is less cool than you think it is, a man making music with a coin and a tin, which is exactly as cool as you think it is, and four clones who gave identicate speeches on behalf of organisations that are all, apparently, very important. The highlight of the ceremony was Kevin bearing the Cambridge flag, which received rapturous applause. The lowlight was the mere single rendition of the FISU national anthem, which wasn't even the spicy remix featuring a children's choir. At last, we were released to enjoy the traditional Gallonial (that's the demonym for St Gallen) specialty of sultana curry, first brought the city by Franz Imhof, a fourteenth-century merchant whose direct descent Beat (yes, really) was one of the mappers for the competition.

Tom ignores Pete's advice to "look up" when orienteering.

On Friday it was finally time to do some racing. We rose early, except for Peter who rose *stupidly* early to go for a shakeout, and made our way to quarantine. The day's first quarantine was brief, at least for your dear author, who had a very early start thanks to the extremely high banter level "total randomisation" approach the organisers had taken to the start list. James had a terrible run and believed he had failed to qualify for the final, and thus did the only reasonable thing by having a massive petulant radge (technical term) in the finish chute. During this, his SI card slid away on the very shiny floor, forcing him to crawl around looking for it underneath tables and chairs while a group of Swiss officials watched on bemused as the last of his dignity seeped out of the building through cracks in the floorboards. James had actually comfortably qualified by over a minute and a half. Peter made light work of qualification, while Anna and Kevin missed out on the A finals through somewhat more adventurous days out. Tom ran straight through the finish chute to download, and so we are technically still waiting to find out if his finish time is a qualifying one.

Friday's second quarantine was less brief. Peter and James played a best of 50 round of rock, paper, scissors, which James won in a nailbiting 26-25 finish. Meanwhile, Kevin, Anna and Tom did some orienteering, and then probably some other things, but because your author was in quarantine, he doesn't know anything about them. He bets they were cool, though. James ran a good final, other than one terrible mistake that must have cost over 30 seconds although winsplits reckons it was fine. The race finished in the historic abbey of St Gall, notable both for its impressive Tudor architecture and for its distinction as the only church in Central Europe to have never been under the control of the Pope. Peter, meanwhile, displayed the sort of sprint orienteering prowess you would expect from a GB athlete fresh off a top-20 result at the World Cup. On course for a top-10 finish in a stacked field, he took inspiration from clubmate Kris Jones' 2022 WOC individual sprint race, and engaged in some light cheating. To quote from wikipedia: "Orienteering is a sport that requires navigational skill using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain whilst moving at speed. Participants are given a topographical map, usually a specially prepared orienteering map, which they use to find control points." Neglecting the final clause of this somewhat clunkily written explanation of our sport is how you lose. And lose is what Pete did. Having collected an absolutely gigantic L to go with his M and P, Pete went for a very slow, very angry, occasionally introspective, but predominantly Tuckerian, warm down.

Peter uses his navigational skill using a map and compass to find a control point.

The next day brought a shot at redemption. A middle race in the beautiful area of Hirschberg, accessible only by an excruciatingly slow train followed by a 2.5km walk to the start from the obilgatory sports hall arena. Hirschberg bore about as much resemblance to the model area as that statue of Cristiano Ronaldo does to its subject matter. But unlike that bronze monstrosity, this was a white, yellow, and occasionally light green wonderland of orienteering ecstasy. Everyone had an excellent time, except for the men's winner on the day, who is afraid of the Dad-joke potential of that adjective. Peter partially redeemed himself with a 21st place, and James achieved that rarest of things for a Brit orienteering abroad in achieveing a higher placing in the forest than he had in the sprint. The deportation committee will meet in September. Tom ran well for 87th, while Kevin was 94th by rights (technically overtime, but who's counting). Anna injured her ankle, which was bad, but consequently got a lift back down the hill, thus avoiding the marathon jog back from the remote finish, which was good. In the evening, some members of the team attended a 'cultural activity' where they learned about the history of the city. Your author was not amongst them.

Kevin checks his map so as not to do a Molloy

The final race was a sprint relay. Anna and Tom, originally slated to run together, were separated into teams with Oxford runners in order to ensure a lower entropy arrangement of injured runners. Kevin ran with a Polish man called Mikolaj, and Pete and James continued their saccharine bromance. Conditions were poor, but our orienteering was not, and while other teams slipped and slid their way to positions not deserving of a diploma, like first, second, third, and seventh, your heroes ran quite much stable races in a really nice terrain to take sixth place. Though technically non-competitive, Kevin and Mikolaj ran a time good for 26th, while Tom and Anna overcame their dark-blue-clad encumberances to record creditable effective positions of 20th and 23rd (notably ahead of Oxford 1) respectively. These results, when added to the individual ones, resulted in a 23rd place finish for CUOC out of 66 universities, vastly surpassing the measly 24th that our friends from South West Milton Keynes Polytechnic scraped together. The process by which these rankings were divined is known only unto a select group of IOF doyens, but we defer entirely to their indubitable authority.

James and Pete try to play it cool amidst a crowd of much better orienteers

CUOC boldly goes to Belgium... and on into Switzerland

Back in the depths of spring, when most CUOCers are often found slaving away in Cantabrian libraries, preparing for their upcoming exams, some other members were hatching a plan for a great European summer tour to take in some of the year’s premier international races. It’s a good thing that these two members, James Ackland and Peter Molloy (your author), were in fact engaging in a distinct lack of revision, thanks to James ‘doing a PhD’ and my continued government-funded galivanting around the former Soviet Union, so were able to devise an exciting schedule to take in both the ASOM Sprint Orienteering Weekend in Ghent, Belgium and the European Universities Orienteering Championships (more on this to follow) in St Gallen, Switzerland.

And so as August appeared on the horizon like a well-chosen attackpoint in an area of open runnable forest, we made our respective ways to the land of chocolate, European governance, speedy cyclists and tall orienteers. However my trip got off to a distinctly bad start when I discovered to my great shock that all toilets in Brussels Charleroi airport (which has the distinction of being about as near to Brussels as Svalbard is to… well… anywhere in the world) were charging a 1€ entry fee. If there’s one type of place I’ve visited many of, it’s airports, and this sort of sick joke/cruel stunt/nakedly preposterous turbo-capitalism is enough to earn Brussels Charleroi the status of bad egg. I will not be back. At least, if I do, I will be back, but in a bad mood.

The weekend kicked off with a 2 person sprint relay around a quaint little mental asylum in central Ghent. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I would write. The extremely humid conditions and intensely compact nature of the area made for a rip-roaring evening of chaos orienteering as over 150 teams teared around the asylum, fresh from the adrenaline of a mass start. I personally conducted myself in an exemplary fashion, managing to slam full-pelt into a mere three middle-aged to elderly participants during my two runs. Having the good fortune of NZ runner Laura Robertson being my relay partner, our team managed to secure a 6th place finish in a competitive field. Yet this pales in comparison to James and his Belgian partner who somehow earned a 2nd place finish in the 55+ Mixed Masters category. Now, whilst we all know that James is really old (sources are unable to determine whether he will be repaying his tuition fee loan in pounds and shillings, as was standard practice for those matriculating before 1971) it is perhaps doubtful that even he should qualify for this category. Still, no-one seemed to mind too much, and I personally was far too busy trying not to faint after having a full-blown conversation with the legendary Swedish orienteering commentator and all-round BNOC of the sport Per Forsberg to overly mind about this serious misdemeanour.

Thoughts soon turned to the prospect of Saturday’s knock out sprint. The morning brought a tricky qualification race around another hospital (not a mental asylum this time) and there was no scope of slacking with such a strong field of international runners. Like an X-factor contestant with no heart wrenching backstory, I snuck through to the knock out rounds, whilst unfortunately there was no such joy for James, who, like an X-factor contestant who didn’t qualify for the knockout rounds, didn’t qualify for the knockout rounds. I think this metaphor has run its course. Like an X-factor contestant who- I’ll stop now. Whilst I gave my very best in my 6 man head-to-head quarter final, I unfortunately missed out on qualifying to the semi-finals by less than half a second as I failed to get past a very lanky Norwegian man in all the twists and turns of, would you believe it, yet another hospital. Ghent: the Mecca of medicine, the holy grail of healthcare, the destination for doctors. Said lanky scandi later informed me that he thought I would let him win. What a weirdo. Nae chance mate.

Fuelled on giddy levels of cholesterol after a generous sampling of local Belgian ‘cuisine’, we both gave the Sunday individual sprint a good crack. It turns out that the town centre of Ghent, whilst sadly lacking the medical infrastructure of the suburbs, is a real tourist hotspot and it was with great jeopardy, both to ourselves and innocent bystanders, that we tackled a speedy course in and out of the various alleys. Respectable results from both of us capped off a fun weekend of sprint orienteering and the prospect of an overnight journey to Zurich loomed larger than a rapidly approaching lamppost towards a distracted orienteer. With James on the train and me on the bus it promised to be a race of epic proportions – a 21st century Paris to Dakar, if you will. And whilst I can most certainly claim to have had a more enjoyable (or should I say, marginally less dire) experience on 4 wheels, James was propelled through the darkness of rural Germany and into northern Switzerland considerably earlier on the rails and so claimed victory, having reached the national museum in Zurich quicker than I did.

Over the coming two days we enjoyed some relaxing and very generously provided free accommodation to the seemingly quite large network of former Cambridge students doing PhDs in Switzerland, including our very own former CUOC captain Heather Corden. We did nothing touristy, accomplished little, saw nothing, ran often and drained our bank accounts just to buy ourselves lunch in various Coop branches. And it is at this juncture that James ‘dibber destroyer’ Ackland shall take over the story…

CUOC goes to the Scottish 6 (or is it 5?) Days

5 CUOCers decided to make the very long journey up to the Moray Coast, to take part in the Scottish 6 Days. I have been told that in the past this involved 6 days of orienteering and one rest day, but shrinkflation reaches all, and thus the week involved 5 days of orienteering and one rest day. The area had some beautiful dunes, and some long walks to the start!

According to google maps it takes a measly 9.5 hours to drive from Cambridge to Portknockie, our base for the week. After sitting in car for an unreasonable amount of time, Day 1 involved a long race around Lossie.

Once the 5km trek to the start was completed, the first half of the courses were spent navigating in tricky contour detail, leading me to predict it was going to be hard to read the map in the next few days. Interspersed with occasional legs running along the beach, the course also featured a mysterious path which existed on the map, but completely not evident on the ground. The second half of the courses involved long legs across flat and ambiguous terrain. Despite being at approximately 57 degrees latitude, it managed to reach 21 degrees Celsius with very little cloud cover. This left me desperately wishing for water the 3km walk back from the finish.

Day 2 featured a middle race in Darnaway, an area used for the World Orienteering Championships in 2015. This was the only day not run on sand dunes and was also the only day where I was able to read the contour detail! However, it was found that white ‘runnable forest’ could mean a variety of things from leaves underfoot to distinctly non-runnable undergrowth. Returning to the sand dunes for Day 3, which took place in Roseisle. This was a very fast forested area with high dunes and complex contour detail. Being next to a beach, presented the opportunity afterwards to swim in the freezing Scottish sea.

CUOC dispersed on the rest day, some went to Inverness, some fraternized with the enemy (OUOC) and some spent 3hrs stuck in a car due to an unfortunate accident closing the road.

The last two days took place in two different parts of Culbin. Day 4 was a long race with a long walk to the start (in some cases a longer to the start and back from the finish than the actual course). The planner took liberty in placing controls as close as regulation would allow, meaning there was ample opportunity to mispunch, which thankfully all CUOCers managed to avoid (this cannot be said the same for some unnamed members of OUOC). Back to the same parking field for day 5 meant just as long a walk to the start, however in a different direction this time. More intricate contour detail meant I for one had the most difficult day of reading the map. The final day was capped off with an hour and a half wait for what turned out to be not chips, instead effectively highly overpriced Doritos.

Overall, this was a very successful Scottish 6 days, albeit a very long distance away. Overall results in our class of choice were good, with Dom Dakin coming 40th overall, Sarah Pedley 14th, I (Adam Harris) 18th, Beth Ambler 5th and Ana Hernandez 17th.

I said I would write this on the 9-hour train journey home, but clearly that didn’t happen as I slept most of the way. All I can say was I am glad I wasn’t driving!


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