Monday, May 26, 2014

Charles Bromley Gardner: "I have to learn the right level of tolerance"

After ending in the second position the Portugal O' Meeting's PreO stage, Charles Bromley Gardner returned to our country, integrated in the Great Britain team to the European Trail Orienteering Championships ETOC 2014. Throughout this interview, Gardner relive some of the highlights of his career, revisits Palmela's ETOC, expresses his views about the TrailO's present moment and speaks of the future, guessing a “busy retirement”.

I start this Interview by asking you, briefly, to present yourself.

Charles Bromley Gardner (C. B. G.) - I’m 54 years old, being one of the oldest 60s babies born in England! Near the end of a military career in the British Army, I’ve settled in central southern England near the town of Andover, but also equidistant from the ancient cathedral cities of Salisbury and Winchester. I have remained a bachelor, participating in far too much sport to ever settle down – biathlon, cross country skiing, a bit of ski-orienteering, many forms of terrain running for recreation, and rugby probably being the main ones. I’ve spent a bit of money on bicycles too. Nowadays, I organise a fortnight’s biathlon/cross country skiing championship for the Army, coaching (skiing and shooting) when I can find more time to get abroad; do a bit of orienteering planning; and referee rugby matches.

I was introduced to orienteering at the start of my Army service, and my participation in the sport built up from there, navigation, and thus orienteering, being an integral tactical military skill. I have won the Army and Tri-Service (Navy/Marines, Army and RAF) championships a few times. In the latter, for the last 4 years, I have finished 3rd three times and 2nd once – not bad for an M50! I won the British Championships once – M35 on Anglesey sand-dunes.

I competed in my first TrailO in 1999, winning the British Championships! I had only entered because it was another activity in conjunction with the Foot-O championships. I think that the standard was very straightforward – there can’t have been many of the intricate tricks now used. I remember one other event from the early 2000s, when I was successfully caught out by the planner. I was abroad In Norway and further afield from 2003-2007, and again in 2009, so didn’t really pick up Trail-O again until 2010/11.

We have very few TrailO events in UK, only 2-3 a year. When held in conjunction with Foot-O championships I will enter. As a result I was selected for ETOC 2012 in Sweden, which was my first overseas Trail-O event. It was a steep learning curve, but on Day 2 I made no mistakes, learning from my 4 or 5 mistakes on Day 1. Likewise in the TempO, I did far better on the public opportunity to go round the Final than I did in qualifying.

You've been recently in Portugal, competing at ETOC. Was it, in the beginning of the season, a major goal to be in Palmela?

C. B. G. - As I mentioned, there are very few Trail-O events in UK. Selection is based on a Ranking List that incorporates the past 2 years’ worth of events. I spent 2013 in Afghanistan, so all my counting scores were from 2012, even though they left me in 3rd position! Thus I was one of the secondary selections for this year’s ETOC. Selection was announced in November 2013, as it was for WTOC, for which I was not selected.

How did you prepare yourself for the competition?

C. B. G. - The first British event of the year occurs in the JK Festival at Easter – after ETOC. So most of the British Open TrailO team went to the Portuguese Orienteering Meeting in March … for the one Pre-O event, backed up by 5 Foot-O races. I certainly would not have gone just for one TrailO event, even though I finished 2nd, with one more mistake, to Remo Madella (Italy).

Otherwise, my only preparation was close reading of the IOF Technical Guidelines for Elite Trail Orienteering (revised January 2014). This is like when I was learning to rugby referee: one must know the rules, before learning how to apply them. I haven’t got into the on-line TrailO opportunities – the 2-D perspective is not quite the same.

You took a great result on PreO second day but the beginning of the competition wasn't, I believe, what you expected. How do you see your 36th position overall?

C. B. G. - I like learning! In both my ETOCs (2012 in Sweden and 2014 in Portugal) I have had a clean result on the 2nd day. But I believe that I can tend to be, now anyway, too critical of flag placement and will obstinately declare a Zero result when the planner has perhaps given themself more leeway. I have to learn the right level of tolerance!

Was I 36th? More importantly, I was the 2nd British competitor! Day 1 (with 5 errors) was disappointing; 3 of those mistakes were mistaken Zeroes, so I knew that I could do better by adjusting my tolerances. The other 2 errors were proper ‘mistakes’ – beaten by the planner. I know that I can again get close to Remo, who finished 9th. I was, however, confident with all my answers. That is a major factor in TrailO - not really knowing how well one has done against the planner until the results come out, let alone how well all the other competitors have done. At least in Foot-O, you know whether you are reading the map and ground correctly!

I don’t feel anything extra about the Team competition: there is no extra pressure, even though it is the event in which GB has a podium place chance. It just requires good competition from all team members … and since I cannot be consistent myself, I will not expect that from other team members.

The other disappointment – my late start on Day 1 Pre-O prevented me running the Middle Race of the EOC Tour!

Was it in your plans to reach the Final of the TempO competition?

C. B. G. - I was very happy to have done well enough in Heat 2 to have qualified for the Final, from an early start. My strategy was to get the answers right, rather than going for the first thought. So I only got 3 wrong … and was beaten by some who got 5 and 6 wrong! (30 seconds penalty for every mistake). This is how I shoot in biathlon – taking care rather than taking the first shot. For me, with little practice in both sports, I reckon it produces the better result. But it will never win.

So I didn’t change my strategy in the final, but the controls were (rightly) harder. I got 6 controls wrong, but see that I took the longest decision time of all the competitors. So I was beaten by those who got 12 controls wrong! Certainly I was a bit disappointed, with both the result and 3 of my mistakes, but it was valuable experience, as it was only my 3rd TempO event in recent years.

Taking a look into the board medal, we can see Finland and Sweden leading the TrailO world scene at the moment. And what about Great Britain?

C. B. G. - We have a chance of a Team event Podium (indeed, perhaps even better – with perfect hindsight, just for us, our best team could have been placed 3rd!). Otherwise we are extremely unlikely to hold enough Trail-O events to gain the experience to produce the individual consistency to challenge the leader board over 2 days (it’s not only me - John Crosby scored 19 in the Paralympic Class on Pre-O Day 2, after 14 on Day 1).

Overall, how do you evaluate the ETOC? Can you point the best and the worst?

C. B. G. - ETOC was a great competition, with few organisational frictions. (Can we draw a comparison with the concurrent EOC, or would that be unfair?) Some competitors will like being in the same terrain for both Pre-O days, whilst others would prefer 2 different terrains. In my view, we are to be grateful to have good competition on any terrain. Very good use was made of that long valley for a very fair competition.

The TempO was surprisingly good competition. It proved that intricate terrain is not necessary for good, fair and testing competition.

Apart from missing my EOC Tour Middle run, the queue at the Day 1 Timed controls was probably the low point. Certainly there were some straining bladders! And I was grateful that the planner gave away on of his challenges on the last control of the Model event (the flags not being down the middle of the re-entrant): having got that wrong (not realising why my bearings were right from one direction, but wrong from the other), I was certainly on the lookout for the repeat control (Day 2, Control 15)!

Is TrailO in the right way?

C. B. G. - TrailO is a great mental challenge. But it does not have the physical challenge that attracted many of us into orienteering in the first place. The main downside is that the guidelines are so ‘geeky’ – perhaps intricate is a better word. It is difficult to attract new competitors when they are caught out by devious control descriptions / flag placements (I am referring in general not to ETOC specifics). To become more popular, TrailO events should be held in conjunction with good Foot-O events – for example I am travelling to Italy for the ‘3 days of Trenches’ 31 May - 2 June, because (easily reached form an airport) in 2½ days away from UK I can run Urban and Middle races and enter a PreO event.

You said before that you will not participate in WTOC 2014. What are your main goals for the rest of the season?

C. B. G. - I am not selected for WTOC. Selection was made in November 2013, partially to enable those selected to book their travel and accommodation at the cheapest rates, at their own expense. It gives me another week’s holiday to spend on snow in the winter!

My summer goals are to decide what I shall do when my military career finishes by February 2015 (or perhaps more accurately how I can maximise participation in all my various sports), and to plan an Urban event in Winchester. It will be, I suspect, a busy retirement, as long as my physical health remains!

Joaquim Margarido

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