Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Dropping the baton


Both US 4 x 100 meter relay teams were disqualified when they dropped the baton. I watched the races on TV a couple of nights ago.

Exchanging the baton looks easy. I'm sure it isn't. I'm sure that the timing is tricky, that grabbing and holding on to the baton is tricky, and that doing it all in an Olympic setting makes it all harder. Still, it seems like such a basic part of the race. It must be something that any Olympic sprinter has done hundreds of times in races and practices. It feels like an inexcusable mistake, even if you know it is difficult to do well.

You've got to feel for the runners involved.

Watching the races on TV, I had the same sort of feeling as I did following the WOC, specifically, the US team at the sprint qualifying race. To refresh your memory, 3 of the 6 US runners DQ'd (one mispunched and 2 skipped a control).

Going to the right control is such a basic part of the sport. It must be more difficult than it would seem, I guess. Emil Wingstedt made the same mistake in the final, skipping a control.

Still, as a spectator/fan, it is disappointing. I feel a bit harsh for writing it, but skipping a control just shouldn't happen. A surprising number of people skip controls in sprint races. It is a well known risk. In the WOC it was especially easy to see the risk. In fact, the day before the sprint race, I looked at the model map for a few minutes and wrote:

The open park land looks like good terrain for some short legs with direction changes. That's the sort of terrain where it can be easy for a runner to skip a control.

It was in the park land that all 3 US runners had trouble.

Sitting at the computer and following the WOC online, it felt disappointing. Skipping a control just shouldn't happen. And it shouldn't happen to experienced orienteers (the 3 DQ'd US runners have 56 WOC races among them; and are among the 11 most experienced US WOC runners).

You've got to feel for the runners involved.

I think (and hope) that these sort of mistakes - dropping batons or skipping controls - are easily fixed. The sort of mistake that you make once and learn from it.

Back to okansas.blogspot.com.

posted by Michael | 5:14 PM


This is by no means a rare occurence for the US men's 4x100 team. If anyone wants to do the research, I think they'll find that the US men(4x100) have established quite a tradition of dropping the baton, or otherwise DQing, in the Olympics and World Championships. In my mind, over the last 25(?) years, these guys are beyond disappointing.

This is not to say that blind passes in a sprint relay are trivial. From my limited experience, I think they are quite challenging, significantly more difficult than avoiding an orienteering DQ, but the other teams seem to master this consistently. Furthermore, in a qualifier, when you are clearly a superior team, and you have a history of this problem, I have no sympathy for these athletes or *coaches*. This is beyond disappointing.

Now back to US orienteering- From my perspective, our DQ rate (for many reasons) in international events (top relays, multi days, and WOC's) has also been alarmingly high, although still better than the men's 4x100.

During the recent WOC I almost sent Spike a private email to prod some data research on the extent of this problem. I think enough time has passed to raise this issue in public, so that it can be acknowledged and addressed appropriately. If my perception is wrong, great.

And yes (for the baseball fans), despite Jimmy Rollins' comments, I do believe that a *little* Philadelphia booing can play a constructive role. :-)

3 of the 9 in the WOC Sprint? Try 3 of the 6. 50%.

It might be that one of the causes of something like this is focusing too much on going fast instead of having some kind of orienteering process goal, but it also might not be. :-)
Fixed the error...3 of 6 it is.
If it's easy to fix, can you suggest some etudes?

This problem is kind of like an electrical circuit with a bad connection somewhere. Most of the time it works, but when you wave your hand over it sometimes it fails. Fixing such a circuit is generally tedious and hard. Often it's easier to build a new one from scratch.

So, starting from scratch, what is a fail-safe procedure for navigating to the correct control?
It has to be unbelievably frustrating to train the hours those athletes do though and drop a baton. It's one thing to finish fourth and miss a medal. At least you gave it a shot. But to be disqualified? Not a good feeling.
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