Team USA Competes in the 2012 ARDF World Championships
Kopaonik, Serbia, September 10 - 16, 2012

Team USA members in Serbia
Twelve of the thirteen members of ARDF Team USA in Serbia.  Left to right are Ruth Bromer WB4QZG, Lori Huberman, Joseph Huberman K5JGH, Nicolai Mejevoi, William Smathers KG6HXX, Scott Moore KF6IKO, Alla Mezhevaya, Jay Hennigan WB6RDV, George Neal KF6YKN, Vadim Afonkin KB1RLK, Harley Leach KI7XF and Karla Leach KC7BLA.  Bob Cooley KF6VSE isn't in this photo, but you can see him on the medal podium below.  (Photo by Jay Hennigan WB6RDV)

It has medieval castles, monasteries and natural hot springs.  The forests are full of pines, furs, oaks and Balkan beech.  In those trees are Scops Owls, Red-tailed Shrikes and Wood Larks.  This is Kopaonik (pronounced "kuh-POH-nik"), a mountain range in central Serbia, just north of Kosovo.  For 160 days a year, snow covers these mountains and attracts visitors from all over Europe and the UK to its two dozen ski lifts, as well as sleigh rides, Ski-Doos and ice skating.  But in September 2012, Kopaonik hosted hundreds of fans of on-foot hidden transmitter hunting, also called foxtailing, radio-orienteering and ARDF.

Fifteen countries have hosted the World Championships since the first one in 1980.  This was the first time for the Amateur Radio Union of Serbia (SRS) to host and everyone agreed that it had never been done better.

Jay Hennigan WB6RDV of Goleta, CA told me, "It was extremely well organized and executed.  I had more fun than at any World Championships before."  This was Jay's fifth World Championships.  His passport has stamps from trips to championships in Croatia, Korea, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.  He earned his position on ARDF Team USA 2012 by capturing three gold medals and one silver medal in the 2011 and 2012 USA ARDF Championships.

Regulations of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) allow only three competitors per nation in each age/gender category, of which there are six for males and five for females.  After the 2012 USA championships at Mt. Laguna, California, invitations were given to 22 foxtailers to represent USA and ARRL in Serbia at their own expense.  Because of scheduling conflicts, medical issues and financial difficulties, only 13 accepted.

These nine men and four women ranged in age from 27 to 71.  They flew to Belgrade where most were met by the Serbian organizers and taken by bus to Kopaonik, 180 miles to the south.  They enjoyed fine cuisine and stayed in resort hotels that were built to host European royalty.  According to Marvin Johnston KE6HTS of Santa Barbara, CA, "The food was excellent.  Each meal was wonderful!"

A Training Camp with Medals

Eight members of Team USA arrived early for a new event, the ARDF World Cup.  Recent world championships have included up to four days of optional training just before the main ARDF competitions.  The Serbs improved on this concept by providing four full-scale ARDF events, two on two meters and two on eighty meters that were good training plus an opportunity win medals.

The World Cup was for individuals, not national teams, so there was no limit to the number of persons from each country.  The Chinese Radio Sports Association alone sent 120 persons, mostly teenagers.  WB6RDV says the hotel Wi-Fi became very slow in the evenings, probably because these Chinese youth were enjoying the uncensored Internet.

World Cup courses were in newly mapped terrain and were in full accordance with IARU rules for ARDF. The Serbs created a point system to combine the results of each competitor's four days.  In each age/gender category, the winner each day earned 100 points and the rest were allocated a lesser number based on their times and positions relative to the category winner.  Five of the eight USA participants in the World Cup were in the top three of their categories on at least one day.  Others built up their point scores by consistent performance.  Final scores were not published before the medal ceremony, so it was a very pleasant surprise when five of our team members got to stand on the podium.

Bob Cooley KF6VSE of Pleasanton, CA received the World Cup overall gold medal for men over age 70.  Bob also earned a gold medal for 80 meters and bronze for two meters.  He attributes his success to regular participation in classic orienteering meets, where he is the leader in his age/gender category in sprint and medium-distance events.

In the M40 category, USA's Team Captain Vadim Afonkin KB1RLI of Newton, MA, captured overall World Cup silver and two-meter silver.  He had excellent times each day, but was always a few minutes slower than Baktybek Sharshenov of Russia.  WB6RDV captured silver on 80 meters in M60 category.  Winning World Cup bronze medals for their 80-meter runs were Alla Mezhevaya of Loves Park, IL in W35 category and Ruth Bromer WB4QZG of Raleigh, NC in W60.

WB6RDV's medal was the result of consistent performances all four days, despite some adverse circumstances.  "I was scheduled to fly from Los Angeles to Cincinnati, to Paris and then to Belgrade," he recounted.  "The overseas flight was delayed so they rescheduled me on a regional airline.  While I was waiting at the airport, I used my laptop to e-mail the organizers to tell them what flight I would be on and when I would arrive, about two in the afternoon.  All the others arriving that day came in during the morning and bus set out for Kopaonik before I got there.

"I called the organizers on arrival and they arranged for a ham in Belgrade to pick me up and take me to the bus terminal.  I caught a city bus that got me to a little town about 25 miles from Kopaonik at 1 AM.  The head of the organizers, Dusan Ceha YU1EA met me there in his personal car and drove me to the hotel.  By then it was 2 AM and I had to compete the next morning.  I almost overslept but managed to get on the bus to the first ARDF course with a few seconds to spare.

"Because of the flight delay, my bags were lost.  Fortunately I had packed my spare receiver in my backpack and KF6VSE had a spare yagi I could use.  I had to run in slacks and button-down shirt.  Then to top it off, the start triangle was mismarked on the map so I spent 50 minutes off the map to the west because the trails didn't make sense.  Once I figured this out and found my first transmitter, I did pretty well."

More Gold for the USA

The remainder of our team arrived Monday, September 10.  By the end of the day, over 330 foxtailers were there to represent 33 nations.  On Tuesday was the Model Event for equipment testing prior to the first ARDF event of the championships on Wednesday.

There were ten transmitters on Wednesday's course, five on each band.  Six of the eleven age/gender categories hunted the two-meter foxes and the remaining five categories searched for the eighty-meter ones.  Everyone walked about a kilometer to the starting area.  The finish was very close to the main hotel.

This was the day that The Star-Spangled Banner would be heard at the medal ceremony for the first time at an ARDF World Championships, and it would be heard twice.  KB1RLI found his four required 80-meter transmitters and sprinted to the finish in just under 50 minutes.  He was about a minute faster than second place finisher Bengt Evertsson SM4VMU of Sweden.  This was Vadim's fifth consecutive trip to the World Championships and his first medal on USA's team.  He learned the sport as a youth in his native Russia.

KF6VSE picked up his third Serbian gold medal that day.  Bob was in the category for men over age 70, which required finding three two-meter foxes.  He did it in 1:32:42, which was almost four minutes faster than second place finisher Viktor Baranovskyi of Ukraine.

According to KF6VSE, "The start was at a fairly high place on one side of the map and I got some useful bearings there.  But then to get to my transmitters, I had to cross a deep valley where reflections turned my bearings into total nonsense.  It wasn't until 25 minutes later when I got to the other side and started climbing some hills that bearings became useful again.  My required transmitters were all on that far edge of the map, kind of in a line."

Thursday, September 13 was the day of the Sprint competition.  The Sprint is a new short course that is intended to be a demonstration of radio-orienteering to the public.  Competitors start at two-minute intervals to seek up to five 80-meter transmitters that cycle at five times the rate of classic ARDF transmitters.  Once they find the first set, they run through a corridor in front of the cheering spectators to a second five-fox fast-cycle course on a different 80-meter frequency.  They find their required foxes and rush to the finish. "The most fun of all was the sprint," WB6RDV told me.  "It was fast-paced because of the 12-second transmissions.  You never had to worry about waiting around a non-transmitting fox for three and a half minutes looking for flags.  I had to find seven transmitters plus the spectator and finish controls.  I ran so fast that I went right past one of my four on the first half.  I realized the error, went back and got it and punched the spectator control a second time.  I found out later that once the spectator control is punched, any punches afterward on first-course controls don't count.  That cost me about two minutes and five or six places."

Team USA has had only one opportunity to practice the Sprint.  The first sprint course on North American soil was June 1, 2012 at the USA Championships at Mt. Laguna.  KB1RLI won that event by almost thirteen minutes.  He proved his skill again in Serbia, completing this Sprint course in just 17:25 to earn a bronze medal in M40.  He was less than two minutes behind Sergiy Goncharuk of Ukraine, who won gold in that category.

The second day of full-course ARDF competition was Friday, September 14, when everyone competed on the band that they didn't run on two days before.  According to KE6HTS, "A thunderstorm soaked the forest before the event, but the weather cleared nicely by start time."

Two stateside hams medaled that day as the team of Ruth Bromer WB4QZG of Raleigh, NC and Karla Leach KC7BLA of Bozeman, MT took bronze in the category for women over age 60.  Team members aren't allowed to help or even to communicate with one another in the forest, but their individual scores are aggregated to determine the national team standings.  Although Ruth and Karla did not medal individually, their combined score made them the third best team in W60 on eighty meters.

KF6VSE says that the two meter course was easier on the second day.  "Everyone started behind a big hill and had to climb to the top, but once they got there, bearings were excellent.  There was no need to pass through a deep bowl that day."

"I spent ten minutes before I could get my first set of bearings," reported Joseph Huberman K5JGH of Raleigh, NC.  "It took five minutes to get to the top of the hill and it was such a super spot that I just stayed there for a full cycle of transmitters and got bearings on all of them."

A Short Time Limit for Foxoring

The last event in Serbia was Foxoring on September 15.  Competitors received a map marked with ten small circles in the field.  They used their orienteering skills to navigate to the circle locations.  In or near to each was a very low power 80-meter transmitter for them to locate using their direction finders.  As in regular ARDF, scoring was first by the number of foxes found and second by elapsed time.

To get the Foxoring concluded in time for some participants to get to their early flights for home, the Serbian organizers imposed a time limit of 100 minutes.  That forced many competitors to go to the finish line before they found all required foxes.  USA did not medal in Foxoring, but WB4QZG finished fourth in her category and WB6RDV was seventh in his.

WB6RDV commented, "Foxoring is a very good combination of radio-orienteering and regular orienteering.  I liked it even though I didn't do very well.  The total course length for my category was about six kilometers.  If I'd had the full 150 minutes, I would have been able to get all my transmitters.  But there were lots of very speedy competitors there.  Some of those people ran those courses faster than I can run on a track."

Championship event organizers are sticklers for following and enforcing the IARU rules of the sport.  Besides certifying the results and ruling on protests, members of the international jury act as observers out on the courses.  KE6HTS, who represented IARU Region 2 on the jury, patrolled between two-meter fox #3 and 80-meter fox #5 on the first competition day.  "I was in the field and a new European competitor came up and asked where we were on the map," Marvin recalls.  "I said that I could tell him but then he would be disqualified for getting help.  He lost interest in asking after that."

Serbia is a peaceful country today, but often gets reminders of its history of conflicts.  Just over one month before the World Cup began, two Serbian soldiers were killed by a bomblet in a field near the Mt. Kopaonik military barracks, about three miles from the event hotel.  Much unexploded ordinance (UXO) remains in southern Serbia from the bombings carried out from NATO-occupied Kosovo in April 1999.  Cluster bombs that missed their intended targets fell into a cushion of deep snow, which kept many from detonating.  As the snow melted, they sank into the leaves and dirt where they were often missed by the first demining crews.

The Serbian military launched a full investigation right away.  Kopaonik National Park officials and the championships organizers hastened to assure participants and visitors that all competition locations were outside the areas where cluster bombs were known to have fallen.  These areas had also been thoroughly swept prior to the skiing and orienteering events that have taken place in recent years.

There were no UXO incidents in the ARDF championships venues.  However, on the day of the Sprint event, another demining contractor lost his life to one of these antipersonnel weapons while working south of the competition sites near the border with Kosovo.

Congratulations to every member of Team USA for making our country a serious contender at international-rules radio-orienteering.

USA's Delegation:

     NAME AND CALL               CITY               CATEGORY
     Afonkin, Vadim KB1RLI       Newton, MA         M40
     Bromer, Ruth WB4QZG         Raleigh, NC        W60
     Cooley, Bob KF6VSE          Pleasanton, CA     M70
     Hennigan, Jay WB6RDV        Goleta, CA         M60
     Huberman, Joseph            Raleigh, NC        M60
     Huberman, Lori              Cambridge, MA      W21
     Johnston, Marvin KE6HTS     Santa Barbara, CA  Jury
     Leach, Harley KI7XF         Bozeman, MT        M70
     Leach, Karla KC7BLA         Bozeman, MT        W60
     Mejevoi, Nicolai            Loves Park, IL     M40
     Mezhevaya, Alla             Loves Park, IL     W35
     Moore, Scott KF6IKO         Santa Barbara, CA  M50
     Neal, George KF6YKN         Maspeth, NY        M50
     Smathers, William KG6HXX    Santa Barbara, CA  M60

Two pages of photos from Serbia are in this Homing In site.  Below are links to the official individual results, courtesy DARC in Germany.

World Cup Two Meters, Thursday, September 6
World Cup Eighty Meters, Friday, September 7
World Cup Two Meters, Saturday, September 8
World Cup Eighty Meters, Sunday, September 9
ARDF Championships Day 1, Wednesday, September 12
Sprint Competition, Thursday, September 13
ARDF Championships Day 2, Friday, September 14
Foxoring Competition, Saturday, September 15

Additional details are in my ARDF Update feature "A Bakerís Dozen of Medals for ARDF Team USA" on the ARRL Web site.

Portions of this report have been excerpted from my Homing In column in the Fall 2012 issue of CQ-VHF Magazine.

Bob Cooley on the medal stand
Bob Cooley KF6VSE wears his gold medal and listens to USA's national anthem.  He was overall winner of the ARDF World Cup in M70 category.  (Courtesy Jay Hennigan WB6RDV)

Joe Moell KØOV
USA ARDF Coordinator

Text and photos copyright © 2012 Joseph D. Moell. All rights reserved.

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