Friday, October 11, 2013

Aus Champs Part II: Back to School

With the Australian Champs run over two consecutive weekends, the days between are traditionally used to hold the Australian Schools Champs. Teams compete from almost all of the Australian States and Territories, (bar NT), and an NZ schools team is kindly allowed to compete (and dominate) each year. The schools competition is an awesome opportunity for the students to socialise, compete, and experience some high level events. The 3 trips that I made during my time in the NZSS team were some of the most influential trips of my orienteering career, and I know the team has been a driving force behind the ever increasing quality of NZ juniors coming through the ranks.

I didn't have much motivation to try and get PhD work done in between the weekends of racing, so thought I'd head out to the schools races, help out, have a run around, and keep a check on who my future competition is likely to be! And of course, being from both NZ and living in the ACT, I had two teams to support, meaning I could hardly lose!

Kiwi team. Australian parliament.
The week kicked off with the traditional live start draw on Monday night. I was invited along to conduct the random draw, which was a very cool experience! My job essentially was to sit on stage, in front of all the competitors, and randomly pull different coloured ping pong balls out of a jar - each colour corresponding to a different state. The corresponding junior would then come up to the stage while their team captain read out their bio, an entertaining ritual.  However, I was informed shortly before the draw, that due to the short time frame, the start list had actually already been job was to read the order of states off the pre-drawn start list, and pull the right coloured balls out of the bin in the right order! All while making it appear like I wasn't looking and selectively picking the balls! Honestly, one of the most high pressure situations I've ever been in in orienteering!! Only twice did I manage to select the wrong coloured ball. Not too bad I think, considering there were two slightly different shades of blue ball for VIC and NSW, and at a glance the maroon of QLD was uncomfortably similar to the black of NZ! But I seemed to get away with the slip ups...I think!

Anyway, with no complaints heard about the start draw, Tuesday saw the running of the Individual competition. The courses, on Wild Deer Sands, started off into tricky sand mining terrain, before emerging into some nice and vague Aussie spur-gully terrain. Concentration and tight navigation was required through the earlier stages of the courses, with accurate bearings and fast legs coming to the fore in the latter stages.

As they have for the last decade, it was the Kiwi team who dominated the results. No prizes for guessing who took out Senior Boys, with Tim Robertson leaving the field 5 minutes behind in his dust. Also at the top were Shamus Morrison and Nick Smith, with only Victoria's Matt Doyle able to break up the Kiwis at the top of the field.
An outstanding week from Nick Smith. Including taking
out M20E in the Aus Long distance
In the Senior Girls, Aussie JWOC rep Lanita Steer (Vic) took out the win, closely followed by soon-to-be-a-NZ-JWOC rep Alice Tilley. Again, the kiwis showed their strength in depth with all 4 senior girls finishing in the top 10.

Alice Tilley carving up the finish chute and taking 2nd
in Senior Girls.
The Kiwis had a much harder task in Junior boys, with Cameron de L'isle the best of the team, coming in 4th, closely followed by ACT's Ewan Barnett in one of the home state's best results of the day. At the top of the field, Simeon Burrill (Qld) and Patrick Jaffe (Vic) had a tight finish, with only 6s separating them.
Meanwhile in the Junior Girls, Asha Steer made it two golds for the family, with Winnie Oakhill of Qld 1.41 behind in 2nd. Katie Cory-Wright was top Kiwi in 3rd, holding off a fast finishing Tara Melhuish (ACT) by 2s in the tightest finish of the day.
Senior Boys course. Suffice to say, Tim smashed me.

Wednesday brought with it the relay competition, held on the adjacent area ,Timber Tops, and using the same wind-swept finish arena. Again, it was a great day to be a NZ and ACT supporter. The Kiwi's showed their dominance in all grades, leading from start to finish in the Senior Boys and Senior Girls. An incredible come back saw the Kiwi Junior Boys team come from behind to take out their grade, whilst, although the Junior Girls posted the fastest time on the day, an unfortunate mispunch saw them dsq. A very harsh lesson in a relay, that a lot of us can relate to!
And from my ACT supporting side - 2nd place in both Senior Boys and Junior Girls completed a great day of spectating, with Tara Melhuish posting the fastest leg time of the day, but not quite enough to reign in the Qld team.

Kiwi Senior Girls coming in to win the relay.
NZ took out 3/4 grades, with a fastest time but mp in the 4th.

All in all, the week was great fun. And that was just from a spectator's point of view! It's been 3 years since I last coached on a NZ national junior camp, so it was awesome to get reacquainted with who the current batch of Kiwi junior talent are, put some faces to names, and realise just how far they've come since I was last a resident kiwi! I was impressed by the motivation and dedication that was apparent, not just within the team, but also from the number of juniors who hadn't made the team, but had still made the trip across to run the spectator races and Aus Champs.
 The Australian Champs and Schools Champs is an awesome opportunity every year for both kiwi and aussie juniors to experience high level competition, as well an introduction to the atmosphere of being part of an international (or inter-state) trip as part of a team. It's done wonders for the depth of kiwi junior talent over the last few years, and it is one of the major reasons our JWOC results are constantly improving. So it was wicked to see the enthusiasm and drive of the juniors to get to the races, as well as the support and encouragement offered by their parents and club mates! Not to mention the organisers and all the team coaches and managers. I bet you're all enjoying a quiet, restful week this week!

 NB: The NZSS manager and coach are notoriously hard to photograph, too busy are they with managing, coaching, photographing and keeping track of 16 school kids! A week long mission, and my cunning tactics of distraction, however, resulted in success. Seriously though, these 2 deserve a massive thanks and congrats for their multiple years of dedication to NZSS trips!

Manager Anna. Tricked into a photo by Gelato.

Coach Derek. Distracted from camera by in depth orienteering discussion.

If I was left with one disappointment from the week, it's that I'm not able to make it to coach on the NZ Junior Camp this year. On the other hand, it has motivated me to continue coaching within ACT next year... hopefully I can help the ACT once again become top state schools team in Australia...If not beat the Kiwis?*

*Just kidding! Honest!

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