FINAL PLACES FOR the UK team at the World Orienteering Championships (WOC) being held in Moray and the Highlands later this month will be up for grabs in Elgin this weekend.
Some of the top men and women in the sport will take part in a sprint selection race in Moray early on Sunday morning.
The UK athletes will be joined by top international competitors from eight nations including the United States, New Zealand, Spain and Norway. While there will be no selection issues at stake for visiting athletes they will put down markers on the standards the British competitors must attain if they are to shine in the world championships.
To prevent runners gaining any advantage by “second guessing” where the courses might take them, the exact location of the start and finish must remain a closely guarded secret until the day. To replicate the WOC finals, athletes will meet in a quarantine location remote from the race start, and be transported to the start only minutes before they start racing.
That always adds tension and pressure – with the specially-produced competition map having never been used for orienteering before, so the first sight of the map and course will be after the runners are handed it when they start.
Mike Rodgers, the regional development officer for Orienteering in Moray, explained: “Where the course goes might be a secret but it’s safe to say that Elgin Town Centre will feature.
“We have a team of control-station marshals who will be gathering early on to set out the course. Any members of the public who want to find a great spot to see some of these fabulous runners in action are welcome to join us at 8am sharp on the steps of St Giles Kirk in the centre of town.
“We will be happy to show spectators the best vantage points – or, alternatively, just look out for the distinctive red-and-white markers that indicate the electronic control stations. The racing starts at 8am with athletes going off at intervals. We want to have everyone finished by 9am before the traffic starts to build up.”
Team GB athletes to look out for include Edinburgh-born Scott Fraser, who has achieved a sub-30 minute 10K this year. Fraser, who has participated (and won) in the Moray Forest Runs Series in the past, has already been pre-selected for the team so is under a lot less pressure than many of his squad colleagues.
As host nation, Team GB can select three men and three women for the urban “sprint” discipline and the forest-based middle and long distance races – these are orienteering’s equivalent of the 5,000m, 10K road race and marathon, with different athletes specialising in the various elements.
Additionally there are three places up for grabs for men and women in the forest relay, and two men and two women for the urban relay team. GB Performance Coach Liz Campbell said: “We will finalise the team selection after Sunday’s race in Elgin, which follows the forest selection race at Royal Deeside on Saturday.
“Then the full team will come together a few days before the first WOC races to complete our final preparations. Athletes and staff are all looking forward to this big opportunity with excitement and determination.”
The training co-ordinator for the weekend, Jon Cross of Forth Valley Orienteers, is urging local people to come and lend their vocal support to an event that will give Moray a glimpse of what is in store at the world championships.
He said: “In the WOC sprint races there will be crowds lining the streets shouting encouragement – it will add greatly to the buzz this Sunday if runners find themselves being yelled at as they burst out of closes or fly round street corners. If you want to find out what you’ve got coming to your area next month there will be no better chance.”
The race is also being used as an opportunity to familiarize WOC race marshals with their roles.
Members of Forres Harriers, Nairn Road Runners Moray Road Runners are part of an 800-strong event team. All of them are being urged to make it along on Sunday.
Members of the public are also encouraged and welcome to meet the athletes after the race.
Marshals will know where the finish arena is situated so interested bystanders will be able to ask any of them for directions – it will be within easy walking distance from the town centre.