It shouldn't happen to an event official! by Jon Sutcliffe

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Creating a successful event partly comes down to the gods. Sometimes they smile on you, sometimes they don’t! Here are some of the random things that have happened to me during event officiating:

1988: Course Planner, Badge Event, Tockholes, Lancashire
M21 course ran three times around an area. 29 markers. On the morning of the event, I discovered that our control cards had 27 boxes. I had to stick a label with two extra boxes on all M21 control cards at the start line. Embarrassing.

1989: Course Planner, Capricorn Long-O, Rossendale, Lancashire.
I had reluctantly got involved in obtaining land permissions. There was a very obliging farmer who claimed to own 'up to yonder wall’ and it was no problem at all. He wasn’t good with maps but to me this suggested to me more than the small field we were standing in! When the event came, I ended up passing a long hour staring down the gun barrel of another irate farmer. Apparently there was a dispute over land ownership.

1995: Controller, Badge Event, Yateholm, West Yorkshire
After a big effort pulling an event together only two weeks after getting the finished map, we were ready with just two days to spare. But then on the night before the event... 15cm of snow fell & all local roads were blocked! The event was cancelled. Nesting grouse prevented a re-run.

1996: Controller, 2 Day Twin Peaks Badge Event, Peak District
Sadly, a fatality on an event. An elderly man died of a heart attack soon after starting his Badge course. I think we handled it as well as could be expected. It makes you realise how important it is to have a system for dealing with casualties.

1997: Controller, National Event, Holme Fell, Lake District.
I had just qualified as a National level Controller & was excited to be overseeing a top event in a prime area of the beautiful Lake District. The run up went well. All infrastructures were in place on the day before the event. This included the finish tent. But it also turned out to be a great spot for a party for a group of louts up for the weekend from Manchester. By morning, it was full of beer cans & looked like a disaster area. The fun & games must have extended to the nearby forest. Fortunately we carried out a check of the final control sites & discovered that they had removed 5 markers near the finish. Starts were delayed whilst we replaced markers & checked all the others in the immediate vicinity. Sadly they had also swiped one from near the start but this wasn’t discovered until the first finishers came through.

1999: Controller, Day 2, Scottish 6 Days.

This was the World Champs year & I was drafted in 4 months before the event to replace the original controller. I had the Day Two area, conveniently located near to Inverness. Courses were well planned in a smallish area. All planning & controlling was complete within 2 months to keep to the 6 Day timetable. It was a 5 hour trip from Glasgow and no visits were made in June & July as a result, but how the vegetation had grown in that time. When we came to hang the markers for the event, the final controls were all buried in 2m high bracken. We spent a frantic early morning tramping possible routes through the bracken. It all worked out well but I think that’s when I began to lose my hair!

2000: Controller, Harvester Relay, Watergrove, Lancs.
The Harvester is a Night/Day 7 person relay usually held in mid Summer. The race starts around midnight with half the legs done at night, the others done around dawn or during the morning, depending on your speed. A great natural amphitheatre was chosen so that spectators at the assembly could watch the torch lights for virtually the entire courses. Hours of extra preparation went into making the race as exciting as possible. As competitors arrived, it was all looking so promising. Then at about 10pm the heavens opened & cloud dropped. The well-designed spectacle never materialized. Those that weren’t competing or waiting to go out on the next leg, remained camped in the tents, sheltering the rain.

2001: This was a great year for couch potatoes in the UK!
Fresh from attending an IOF Event Advisers course in Sevilla, Spain, I had been asked to control the short & classic distance individual races at the British Championships on army land in Northern Ireland. First disaster: suspected device found in the dunes. The Army were obviously concerned about terrorist activity. We just about ironed out a strategy when Foot & Mouth Disease closed down the entire UK countryside for about 6 months. Many months of work went down the pan and it seemed like forever before things picked up again.
The first good news, however, was that the Scottish 6 Days went ahead in Fort William. Scotland escaped the worst of the disease and the Royal Estates lead the way in re-opening the Scottish mountains. Thor & I agreed to become Campsite Managers. However, in typical Scottish fashion, it rained for days before hand & then during the event. On one day over 5cm fell. The campsite became waterlogged. On Day One we spent hours giving out refunds, marking out the useable plots. The toilet blocks had no electricity, & the company that supplied them had no one rostered to clean them. The hired camp security guard, a former police sergeant, turns up on the first night drunk, throws a tantrum about the condition of the site & then walks off. The rest of the week was spent buying disinfectant, moping out toilets & marshalling a swamp. Not a happy week!

2002: Controller, British Championships, Magilligan, Northern Ireland
Almost the entire 2001 British calendar of events now moved to 2002, and with renewed enthusiasm the British Champs was given another go, in Northern Ireland. But it wasn't free from problems the second time around. With life in Northern Ireland more peaceful than for decades there was every reason to be optimistic. The area was an army training camp & comprised of quality sand dunes. There were holiday resorts nearby & it was a perfect setting. But it so nearly did not happen. On an afternoon in February, a civilian security guard picked up a strange object from the perimeter of the camp. The device exploded and he sustained severe injuries losing both hands. After the initial shock & difficulties, the Army was still very keen to allow the event. With the confirmation that terrorism related problems would be covered by the British Government, in the absence of any insurance for such matters, we did get the 'go ahead’. Most of the final months on the site were spent with intense security both on land & from the air. I will never forget checking the markers on the day before the championships, with armed soldiers in helicopters hovering just above me, and constant armed patrols around all the vehicle tracks. But everyone was very helpful & the event was one of the best British Championships in recent memory. The north of Ireland really is a special place.

2002: Course Planner, Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon, Balquhidder, Scotland

Just 6 weeks after this success, I planned the courses for the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon. This was in the heart of Rob Roy country, near Balquhidder, in Scotland. It took 5 days to get all the markers out as it was a remote high mountain terrain. It was therefore very disappointing when Elite competitors arrived at overnight camp reporting a misplaced marker. I remembered putting it out in a reentrant near the summit of Ben Venue, a 900m peak, even double-checking the site with GPS, but it was found on a spur 100m away. Who would move a marker? It was a mystery until the half eaten marker was brought in. Orienteering markers were on the menu for local deer that week.

So as you see, I have had some colourful & unique experiences. My next outing as a controller comes next October, at the National MTBO Championships. Lets hope I have nothing new to add! 

Jon Sutcliffe  

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