British Schools Orienteering

Anyone looking at the plain results and not knowing the circumstances surrounding this year's British Schools Champs in Dorset would think that the event had been relatively uneventful. Most of the age classes were won by the usual suspects, Ulverston Victoria High made the long trip from Cumbria to keep their Large School title, Clayesmore from Dorset retained their Small Schools Trophy on their home patch, Barnardiston Hall from East Anglia again won the Middle/Prep Schools class and Burford School, Marlow as usual won the primary class.

The weekend had started auspiciously in reasonable weather. From the parking base at the Forestry Commission offices at Coldharbour, just North of Wareham, almost 400 children ran courses at the Training event. Many ran more than one course and after Sundays championships a number of teaching staff commented how relevant these courses had been to the championship courses proper on Sunday.

Meanwhile, almost 150 children in the M/W14 & M/W16 took part in the selection race for next years ISF championships in Scotland, held at the nearby forest on Gore Heath. There is very little in the way of parking at Gore Heath and competitors were transported by minibus with parents and coaches having to stay behind at Coldharbour, a decision which caused a little controversy before the event. Gore Heath provides good, technical orienteering and Ben Chester's excellent courses (which even offered warm - up controls before the Start) proved a something of a challenge to some of the less experienced schools runners. The performance of the day came from Jonathan Crickmore (Downlands), who was six minutes clear of the next runner in M14. Predictably Peter Hodgkinson (Bilborough) won M16, two minutes clear of Kris Jones (Olchfa). In the girls classes, W14 was won by Charlotte Watson (Keswick), whilst Julia Blomquist (Tomlinscote), controversially omitted from the latest Start Squad, continued to challenge the wisdom of the selectors with a four minute winning margin over the rest of the field on a technical W16 course.

Overnight the forecast rain arrived together with gale force winds and a belated severe weather warning from the Met Office. Instead of the predicted dry 'window' in the weather during the morning the rain and wind increased in intensity as the competition started. This left the organisers coping with several problems. The chosen area, Cranes Moor on the SW of the Bovington tank ranges, offered mainly runnable woodland with a mixture of technical orienteering and a good path network for the younger age groups. Only the very longest courses crossed any of the infamous tank-wallows, and that only very briefly. Parking was all on hard-standing, but there was a walk to the Assembly field and Starts for those in cars and coaches. The North Start was sheltered, but the South Start was rather more exposed. The tent sheltering the officials doing sportident issue blew down when the sheer force of the gale fractured several tent poles and they had to transfer to working from cars. In the consternation caused by this, some competitors were inadvertently issued with the wrong set of SI cards and this later caused problems at the finish. These were the only equipment problems; the plastic maps stood up to the deluge and all the SI boxes behaved perfectly. Whilst the main competition went ahead, the Trail-O competition was postponed and later the prize-giving was cancelled to allow competitors to stay in the warmth of their coaches and make an early start home to avoid the promised snow for those travelling north.

It was noticeable that whilst many children were well equipped to cope with the conditions, some were not and despite the advice that cagoules should be worn if possible, many competitors arrived at the Start wearing only basic O-kit and were already almost too cold and wet to start. The parents of other children removed their offspring's rainwear on the Start line, despite the advice of the officials to let them run with it in place. Although all children competing are supposed to have completed three courses of appropriate standard before the Schools Championships, some children clearly did not have the necessary orienteering experience or skills for entering such a competition: more than one child, when handed their SI card at the Start enquired 'How do I use this?' Fortunately, the organising team had a large number of helpers situated in the forest and anyone looking in danger of suffering from exposure was promptly removed from the woods and taken back to the shelter of the finish field tents, where the First Aid team had an unusually busy morning.

Not surprisingly given the awful weather, there were rather more retirals than usual. Frustratingly for the planners, this included a number of younger juniors on ostensibly 'bomb-proof' courses who, having done all the hard work, in their haste to reach the finish, and the attraction of the model tank as the final control, simply forgot to punch their penultimate control, or punched too quickly. Fortunately, the courses had been planned on the shortish side, so that there were some very quick winning times from the best juniors, but no-one else was out for an inordinate amount of time.

Whilst competitors gained great credit merely for getting round in the awful conditions there were several particularly meritorious performances. Stuart Thompson from Bilborough gained an unexpected victory over team-mate and favourite Peter Hodgkinson in B12 whilst local GB junior star Alice Butt (S Wilts) in her last British Schools, won G13 by a huge margin. Very few, if any, Scots had made the long trip to Dorset but Down High School from Northern Ireland were rewarded for their initiative when their Year 9 Boys won the team prize whilst Aine McCann convincingly took the G9 title. And Controllers Caroline and Ian Moran (SOC) had an unexpected bonus when daughter Tamsin won the G8 class - her first victory at a major event.

Congratulations and thanks are due to Co-ordinator Chris Branford and all officials and helpers from WIM & SARUM, who, (together with WSX who organised Saturday's Training event), worked long and hard, before, during and indeed after the weekend to keep the show on the road in very difficult conditions.

(Dick Keighley, Wimborne Orienteers)

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