The drama and euphoria of WOC2006, the World Orienteering Championships, in which particularly our women’s Team did so remarkably well, was an incredible experience for those Aussies present in the crowd. Some fifty or so gathered each day around the Australian flags strung up on makeshift poles, creating a point of focus and support for the Team. Many wore the de-facto Australian t-shirt discovered by one of our number in an outlet shop. The bright colours and distinctive design attracted the attention of TV cameras, especially after Hanny Allston’s storming win in the Sprint, so much so that we were featured on the Big Screen and later on Danish national TV.
Hanny’s win created something of a sea-change in international Orienteering. So many people of many nationalities came up to us in the following days with congratulations, saying how great it was for Orienteering that the title had been won by someone from outside Europe. That the European dominance of WOC titles had finally been broken was certainly being celebrated by Europeans and non-Europeans alike.
For Aussies in the crowd it was an amazing moment which we will all remember for a long time. For your reporter in the press area, when it was clear that Swiss star, Simone Niggli-Luder, would not beat Hanny’s time pandemonium broke loose and it was a case of fighting for position to get the all-important photos of the youthful winner. For the rest of the Team it seemed that cloud-nine was far below them.
The following days were punctuated by good, solid performances in the Long- and Middle-distance disciplines. Then it was on again in the women’s Relay. Jo Allison and Grace Elson had set the team in a very good position when Hanny took over for the last leg. By the half-way spectator control she had nearly caught the Czech and Norwegian runners and up ahead Niggli-Luder had made some bad mistakes. In the crowd our hopes were running high for a podium (top-6) finish. But the Czech, Brozkova, was running fast. Could Hanny catch her?
Then, in the lead the Finn, Minna Kauppi, made a three-minute mistake. Out in the forest could she hear the booming voice of the announcer proclaiming that Finland would win, “That’s for sure!”? Had her concentration been broken for a vital moment? For the Aussies in the crowd there was only one runner who mattered – how was Hanny going?
Kauppi recovered to take the gold medal for Finland, pausing to bow to the crowd from the last control before running down the straight with her team-mates. Sweden’s “Karro” claimed silver after making some big mistakes early and Niggli-Luder ensured bronze for Switzerland.
But the drama was behind her. Hanny had run straight through the Czech and Norwegian girls. She came storming (there’s that word again) up the hill to the last control almost a minute clear of Brozkova. She turned, punched her fist in the air and, hair flying, raced down to the finish with a big grin on her face and clearly in 4th place, Jo Allison and Grace Elson running at her side.
She had taken nearly 5min off the Swiss super-star, Niggli-Luder, and close to 4min off Minna Kauppi, the Finn. It’s the kind of run which makes relays so exciting and we Aussies in the crowd were so proud to have seen it on that day.
Congratulations to all three girls for giving us such a wonderful exhibition of Aussie spirit and determination, and particularly to Hanny for putting the icing on the cake.