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Wrap-up: WOC 2009 Relay

Thierry Gueorgiou, Martin Johansson, the Secretary General of WOC 2009, Matthias Merz, Simone Niggli and hundreds of orienteers have written their opinion about the WOC 2009 relay. The orienteering community also got the possibility to give their opinion through a poll. Now it is time to wrap it all up – and get on with the next races!

The Facts

Let us start with a quick recap of the facts:

  • Martin Johansson (Sweden) runs ahead of Thierry Gueorgiou (France) and Anders Norberg (Norway) on the way to the 13th control in the WOC 2009 Relay. Michal Smola (Czech Republic) is some seconds behind in fourth spot.
  • Johansson gets a stick 10-12 cm into his leg, and cries loudly. Gueorgiou approaches him first, and stops to help. Soon Nordberg also comes along – and then Michal Smola. All three give up their chances for medals in order to help Johansson.
  • The other teams continue their races, unaware of the drama with Johansson. In the end medals go to Switzerland, Russia and Finland – before that the Swiss team went to the organizers and said that they didn’t feel like winners. No formal complaints were delivered to the organizers by any parties, though.
  • There were two options for the outcome of the relay: Either let the results stand, or cancel the results, by deeming it ‘unfair’ based on IOF Foot-O Competition Rules 26.13 [“The organiser must void a competition if at any point it becomes clear that circumstances have arisen which make the competition unfair or dangerous for the competitors.”]. It was decided to let the result stand.
How it happened: The Stories from Involved Parties

Here some of the stories from the involved parties about how it happened (Note! Emphasis and translations are done by me). Follow the links to get the full stories:

  • Martin Johansson: With myself as the only witness so just after the 12th post I speeded up running downhill and suddenly something smashed my right quadriceps and I tried to continue for some steps but I had to stop. Then I saw a big branch sticking out, I sat down and felt on the branch, it was not moving. I almost panicked and assuming it was going to get bloody like in a bad splatter movie. Then I saw Thierry and I yelled at him to help. Anders come some seconds later and after a while also Michael Smola come and he stopped instantly. I remember I told them to continue to run but they all refused. That I’m happy about because during the time they helped me I passed out several times. They removed the branch and stopped the bleeding with the GPS vest and the French sweater and Thierry measured that the branch got 12 cm in. They took me down to the road and Anders run away to get some help from the arena.
  • Thierry Gueorgiou: At the 12th control, we were three (Martin, Anders and me) within 100 meters gap. After a tough climb, we were running along the slope and we were all increasing the speed. I was running in parallel with Martin some 30 meters higher on the slope when I heard him yelling. I looked at him and thought that he twisted his ankle, or something like this, as he was standing on the ground. At that time, we knew that the situation was critical. My concentration raised 100 times higher than 3 minutes ago when we were running the WOC relay. We decided to take away the branch, hoping that no artery would be damaged. Michal came at that time and immediately decided to stop even if we told him to continue. As far as I remember, I told him something like “Just run, you’ll be World Champion…” […] We found quickly some hiker’s couple with a mobile phone. But that was the most stupid situation you can imagine. No one of us manage to remember a number to call in the finish area. Finally, Michal called a friend living in Czech republic who called their national coach, Radek. At the same time, Anders was also running to the finish arena. [Comment from editor: Imagine the bizarre situation when Michal calls his friend who is watching the WOC Relay via the Internet. – It is Michal calling. I am in the forest running the WOC Relay…]

  • The Secretary General of WOC 2009: I was warned quite early by one of the refreshment guards by phone, that a big accident happened to the Swedish runner on the course. He lost consciousness and needs medical treatment asap. In 5 minutes, I was on site with an ambulance car. Being the first car there was quite a special situation. The situation was much better, than expected – Johansson did not lose his consciousness, but had big pain in his leg. Thierry Gueorgiou was holding his hand strongly and they all were quite relieved, when we arrived. Johansson managed to talk to us and in under 10 minutes, he was inside the ambulance car. The strange thing is, that we had 3 other accidents happening at the same time, but fortunately none of them was like this.
  • Matthias Merz: Shortly after the finish line I can not believe it. My first thought is that I have left out a control. It is impossible that I should pass that many stron runners without seeing then. But everything is alright. We have won…,
    Soon there are rumors. The joy diminishes. What happened? Is somebody in real danger? More teams run into the finish and fight for positions. The atmosphere is strange. Nobody knows anything, and a few rumors going around. The joy is gone. For me it is very important that the situation is understood properly. I had no idea about the accident, and saw nobody. Of course I had stopped and helped – I would have been more happy with that than to win!
Reactions from the involved parties about the result

Many of the involved parties have expressed their opinion of the matter. Below some of the opinions are collected (emphasis are again mine):

  • Martin Johansson: A time like this you get remained that still sports is just a game. I’m enormously thankful and happy that those who for some minutes where my worst competitors and I’m theirs decided to abort the hunt for gold and in a moment changed to help me with determination and efficiency. Anders, Michal, Thierry, THANKS for the high moral and sportsmanship you all showed in your acting’s!
    Unfortunately I can’t give them any medals but they have my greatest respect as sportsmen and humans. I hope many more agrees with that.

  • Thierry Gueorgiou: Of course, I will never blame Martin. I have much respect for him and spending a night at his parent’s place this winter was a good memory. Our medals are now at somebody else’s home, but I am use to deal with this frustration. What makes me most sad is that the great performance from Philippe and François weren’t reward. I would have appreciated to see the result list canceled. Organizers and IOF did some kind of compromise during the ceremony, while not putting the medal around competitor’s neck, but then what’s the meaning of those medals now? Half-value or no value at all? To be honest, I don’t really care and get bored about all those discussions, I am not doing orienteering for the medal ceremonies; I am doing that mostly for emotions. And, thanks to Martin, I got more adrenalin that day than in any other WOC races. I guess I’ll remember that day a long time.
  • The Secretary General of WOC 2009: When I got back to the finish (~ 1 km), my humanic side insisted, that their is no possibility to have the race results as they are. In the meantime I knew, that the situation is not that easy.
    The Organising Committee immediately started talks about what to do with the situation. The IOF Sports Director came to us immediately, telling that the IOF’s view is that this is a very sad situation, but a result is a result, and it should be kept. It was quite clear, that we only have two very simple options:
    1. Cancel the results, as it was ‘unfair’ in a way (based on IOF Foot-O Competition Rules 26.13.).
    2. Keep the results as they are and give recognition to the teams involved.
    We knew, that whichever decision we take, there will be a lot of people, who are clearly against the decision.
    First, we asked the three teams’ officials involved in the rescuing mission, but they didn’t give any clear answer. Then we asked the three teams, who eventually got onto the podium because of the situation. Two of these teams were hesitant about what to do (they wanted to talk to their runners first), the third one was clearly in favour of keeping the results (his competitors were not happy of the medal they earned this way, though). So we got no clear input from the teams.
    As time was passing quite fast, and the Organising Committee itself was divided in the question, we decided to have a vote. The vote resulted in a tie, and thus the Chairman’s vote was decisive – and it was to keep the results as they are.
    I informed all the teams involved about the decision, and we agreed with those, who happened to be on the podium, that they will not cheer, not stand up on the podium and will receive their medals in their hands. At that time, they seemed to have all agreed on the situation.
    Two of the three teams involved in the rescue mission were a bit upset though, when they heard about the decision. They wanted to hand in a protest (referring to section 26.13. in the IOF Competition Rules), but after some talks, they decided not to hand in the protest.
    Once again, I must say, that it was a very strange situation, where any solution would be far from ideal. We tried to follow the rules as much as possible, but still the communication now is more negative, than it was in the arena.
    A lot of team leaders came over to me (Sweden included), that we made the right decision. Cruel as it is, but I’m quite convinced, that had it been the other way round, we would have received much more criticism overall.
    We, the WOC2009 Organising Committee still think, that this decision – although still not a good solution – was better than the other one.

  • Matthias Merz: We discussed a long time what to do. In the end we decided that we should go to the organizers and tell them that we didn’t feel as winner. The organizers though, wanted to let the competition result stand. For myself, it would have been best if the race was canceled. I would not be able to be happy about this kind of gold medal anyway. We did not deserve it. From this relay, the
    exemplary act should be remembered – the result is not important.

  • The French Orienteering Federation: The FFCO does not understand the stand taken by the IOF on the events that took place during the last stretch of the Relay at the World Championships.
    Indeed, what happened cannot be considered as a race fact, on the one hand because it epitomizes the fair play spirit that should be shared by all orienteers in the world, on the other hand because it influenced dramatically the final result of the race. This is why the FFCO thinks the right decision to make would have been not to constitute any prize list for the Relay 2009.This decision would have been the only one worthy of the three athletes who were the first ones to give up on the ranking to rescue another contender. Besides, in doing so, the IOF would have sent a strong message in placing fair play and ethics above results. Instead of doing so, the IOF has not made any decision, but paid tribute to the heroes of the day in a speech delivered during the award ceremony. They might have been expecting the winners to give up on their title and all that comes with it. But this did not happen. In the minutes following the event, numerous discussions took place between the team managers, the organizers and the IOF. Several ideas came up, one of them being to replay the Relay, later on in the year, on the occasion of the World Cup Final in Switzerland. It was suggested the Norwegian team and the French team managers should lodge a complaint but the rules did not allow it, in this case. Moreover, it appeared that this responsibility fell not on the contending nations but on the ruling body of International Orienteering. The IOF should have displayed political courage under such exceptional circumstances.
    On that very day, the French Team managers handed out a written statement to the IOF President to express their views on the matter.
    The French Federation thinks the Relay should not be re-run later on (which would cause the race to be erased from history). The race should be remembered for the outstanding attitude displayed by the three athletes who embodied the orienteering ethical values thoroughly. The race and the orienteering values will be best remembered if the results are overruled and therefore no result appears on the 2009 Relay Prize List.

  • The Norwegian Orienteering Federation: – When the organizers did not cancel the relay, the IOF should have canceled, says the president of the Norwegian Orienteerding Federation Elin Drange. The Norwegian Federation also discussed with team manager Petter Thoresen if Norway formally should deliver a complaint. – Unfortunately not all countries agreed with us that the relay should have been canceled. 39 countries were participating, and there were many different opinions about the incident. Therefore it had been unfortunate it only Norway, Sweden, Czech Republic and France would have done this, Drange explains. […] – We will not do anything more formally. We do not in any way wish that the medals are delivered back, Drange explains.
The orienteering community’s opinion

A poll was set up at World of O to see the orienteering community’s opinion. [Note! Now updated with final poll results compared to the original published article.]

The matter has also been discussed in a lot of different forums on the Internet. Below some of them are listed:

The right decision?

So what was the right decision in the case of the WOC 2009 Relay? All agree that Gueorgiou, Nordberg and Smola did the right (and natural) thing by stopping and helping Johansson. But should the race have been canceled or not? No matter which decision would have been chosen, many would have deemed it the wrong decision. The organizers had to decide from two options – none of which felt like the right decision.

Now the relay has two different sets of winners: On the one side Gueorgiou, Nordberg and Smola – on the other side the Swiss Team who came first to the finish. None of them feel like winners, though. The incident will be discussed for still many weeks, months and years to come – and just as nobody feels like winners in the relay, there is no decision which really feels like the correct decision.

So – let us get on with orienteering!

Last leg – 5th control: The real decisive moment

WOC 2009 Relay: 5th control of last leg for men and women
Most of the focus inn all the pages that have been written about the WOC Relay has (naturally) been on what happened to Martin Johansson between the 12th and 13th control. However, as some commentators point out, the decisive moment in both relays was actually at the 5th control of the last leg with control code 112 (see map extract with tracking for all men/women overlayed above) – so let us take a look at that before finishing the discussion about the WOC 2009 Relay.

Mens race

First the mens relay. When approaching the 5th control, Thierry Gueorgiou of France was in the lead with around 30 seconds based on the GPS Tracking (see video above). – […] it would have been nicer if I would have seen the same thing than the mapmaker here. I was standing for more than 2 minutes with no idea where to look for the control – first time I got such feeling in a WOC race, Thierry Gueorgiou writes at his website about this incident. Johansson got a lead of nearly 90 seconds after this control – a lead which Gueorgiou and Nordberg just managed to catch up ahead of control number 12 (partly due to a big mistake by Johansson at control number 10).

In Orienteering there are always a lot of “what if’s” – and this one at the WOC 2009 Relay is one of the big ones: – What if the problematic 5th control had not been so hidden in an area where it was difficult to relate the map to the terrain for many of the runners? Would Gueorgiou have been ahead of Johansson at the 12th control? Nobody knows ; however, the 5th control was surely a very decisive moment in the relay.

Womens race

Enter the womens race. Again the same control. Simone Niggli and Minna Kauppi approach the control together – about 30 seconds ahead of Helena Jansson and two minutes ahead of Marianne Andersen and Dana Brozkova. Leaving the control, there is a mass start with four of them – the only one who is left out of the fun is Niggli who after the control is 2 minutes behind the other four teams, loosing a total of 4:30 at the 5th control.

Simone Niggli writes at her webpage: – From above I run with compass down the hill, and I found that it was very difficult to see the edge of the green area. […] I run down in high spiris, but I could not find the control. Minna also started to search for the control, and because I knew that I was close to the control, I scoured the area. Soon the chasers came along, Sweden, Norway and the Czech Republic. They also wandered around, and soon I didn’t know what to do. It was no help running to the path as it was straight and would not be able to help. I also tried it with the single tree which was really close to the control, but also nothing. Suddenly I saw that the others started running determinedly uphill. I followed them a few steps – but soon understood that they were on the way to the next control. Shit – back again, and after further costly seconds I suddenly saw the control behind a green bush in a hole. A small consolation after the race were the reaction of the other runners and those who had subsequently gone to look at the control. A not 100% fair control, but unfortunately that didn’t help a lot…

My opinion about the 5th control

Photo: KalevanRasti.fi. – including some analysis and discussion by Jukka Inkeri, Kalevan Rasti.

I was out checking the control after the race, and actually searched for between 5 and 10 minutes before finding it – all the time searching within 30-40 meters radius. In the end I gave up, and stumbled over the control just when I was leaving as I was sure the organizers had removed the control. Well hidden in the green – but approximately in the right place according to the map. The area was full of paths going back and forth – lots of runners had obviously been searching here. The control was probably in the correct place, but extremely difficult to see…

Results men

1. Switzerland 2:22:48
1.1 Baptiste Rollier 36:37
1.2 Daniel Hubmann 54:18
1.3 Matthias Merz 51.53

2. Russia 2:25:12
2.1 Dmitry Tsvetkov 34:54
2.2 Valentin Novikov 52:24
2.3 Andrey Khramov 57:54

3. Finland 2:25:14
3.1 Topi Anjala 36:03
3.2 Tero Fohr 54:52
3.3 Mats Haldin 54:19

4.Latvia 2:25:18
5.Hungary 2:29:16
6.Poland 2:30:20

Results women

1. Norway 2:13:10
1.1 Nilsen Betty Ann Bjerkrei 32:57
2.1 Hausken Anne Margrethe 50:19
3.1 Andersen Marianne 49:54

2. Sweden SWE 2:13:28
2.1 A.Höjsgaard Karolina 32:28
2.2 Nilsson Kajsa 50:01
2.3 Jansson Helena 50:59

3. Finland FIN 2:15:25
3.1 Holmström Bodil 33:33
3.2 Rantanen Merja 47:51
3.3 Kauppi Minna 54:01

4. Switzerland SUI 2:16:12
5. Czech Republic CZE 2:16:26
6. Russia RUS 2:20:10

Replay of the WOC 2009 action

Follow the WOC 2009 action through the World of O LiveBlog below. There is also a mobile version of the LiveBlog here.

About Jan Kocbach

Jan Kocbach is the founder of WorldofO.com - taking care of everything from site development to writing articles, photography and analysis.

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