|Albums > 2005 > Challenger 2005 > Stage by Stage Commentry|
|STAGE BY STAGE COMMENTARY|
The wait was finally over for those teams entered in the Microsoft UK Challenge 2005. Many nervous and apprehensive faces were scattered amongst the competitors, with over half of the 700 entrants taking on Challenger World’s intelligent sport (TM) format for the first time.
After an initial briefing and welcome to the event from Microsoft, many teams were expecting a relaxed first evening with their feet up, however the reality was far from it! Teams opened the action with a two-hour night stage beginning at 10:30 pm.
Stage 1 was a fastest to finish stage where teams had to navigate their way on foot through the dense forest of Mynydd Bach. Teams were required to visit three compulsory check points in their teams of four, in addition to a further nine bonus points, which could be visited in pairs and would be worth a 15 minute bonus each. Sounds simple so far? We’ll try doing this in the dark without maps! In fact teams were able to view a map of the area at the start posts and then at each of the compulsory check points. However, they were required to remember the maps as best they could or record information on their note pads.
Richard Griffiths, Director of the Tourism Partnership for Mid-Wales, fired the start gun and the teams were away, racing across in their fours to the giant maps. Teams frantically scribbled notes on locations whilst devising their strategies to best accomplish the task at hand. Some used sketches, other more experienced navigators incorporated bearings and distances, while some younger more gung hoe teams tried to work it out on the hoof! Each had their merits, but it was clear that the majority of teams were looking for a relatively conservative strategy of gaining all the compulsory check points (CP’s) and picking up a few bonus points (BP’s) on their way.
After 80 minutes teams started to filter back to the finish line to a huge cheer from the awaiting team mates and spectators. Teams such as Accenture (1), Aon (69) and QinetiQ (119) all opened up with impressive stage times, easily getting home under the required 2 hour limit, whilst picking up all the available BP’s. This was a huge effort, considering the time and navigation restrictions and difficulties that team faced within this stage.
The highlight for the evening was seeing the multi ability teams cross the line, considering some of these competitors were blind, on wheel chairs or battling various physical disabilities – a truly inspiring effort!!
Once all the teams had returned, day one was complete and all competitors were looking forward to the rest of the competition as well as their first night’s sleep.
After a well-deserved rest, teams were greeted with the stunning Hafren forest for a fastest to finish on foot stage, where timing of entry to check and bonus points was all-important. Hafren is located in the beautiful Hinterland, approximately an hour from the coast and nestled in rolling Cambrian mountains – the perfect Challenger World setting!
The stage lasted for two and a half hours and teams were required to visit all points as groups of four to avoid penalties. Throughout the forest there were two check points and eight bonus points – with varying time values - strategically placed. First up, one team member rushed out to collect valuable information from the stage’s start pillars - the scene more resembled a piranha attack as teams swarmed to get their envelopes with the all important maps and key timings.
Whilst teams were free to visit both the check points at any time within the stage’s allotted time, the bonus points opened and closed at various times during the stage. This meant that teams had to devise strategies that not only served to gain their team as much bonus time as possible, but it was also key that their plans were realistic. Teams were only awarded the bonus if they visited the bonus point whilst it was open. This set to cause teams no end of trouble with just slight miscalculations and judgements setting them off track to hit the correct points within the correct times. Successful teams were not only those who devised the best initial strategies but also those who were able to adapt their plans to meet the ever changing environment.
Aon(69), Marsh(62) and GCHQ(7) were best able to adapt to the conditions and devise realistic strategies. This resulted with the two insurance house arch rivals at the top of the pile - which served to get their competitive blood flowing! WDA(39) had a fantastic stage, finishing with the best stage time, resulting in a rise up to fourth position.
In the all women’s team category, competition was fierce with excellent representation from Accenture, Microsoft, Lloyds TSB, Sainsbury’s and Merrill Lynch to name just a few. At this point Accenture(80) had a narrow lead over Microsoft(10). It will be intriguing to see who will be able to win their free team place into the World Team Challenge!
After an hour’s well-earned break, food and a quick sports massage, teams were ready to get back into the action with a demanding stage three.
The second stage of the day permitted the teams to take the weight off their event-fatigued legs with a mountain bike serving as mode of transport. This stage was two and a half hours in duration and had team’s riding on the fire trails through the northern section of Hafren forest.
The objective of the stage required teams to answer as many of the 12 questions and puzzles on the course within the stage time. These questions ranged in difficulty, but included menzar puzzles, observation and word scrabbles. An example was:
Two amoebas were placed in a test tube. They reproduce by splitting themselves in two, a process that takes 5 minutes. After four hours they have filled a test tube.
How long will it take a single amoeba in an identical quantity of water to do the same?
Teams also had the option of visiting information points, where answers to questions were made available. Team were allowed to split into pairs to collect their information, but question points could only be visited as full teams. The more questions that the teams were able to answer, the more bonus time they received. However, any team failing to correctly answer at least four questions received penalties. For example, if a team was unable to answer any questions they received a 180-minute penalty, whilst teams answering all 12 questions correctly were awarded with 150 minutes of bonus time.
Having solved as many questions and puzzles as possible teams returned to the finish line within the stage time. Team Airbus who are reigning champions from the World Team Challenge, answered an incredible 11 out of 12 questions correctly. This resulted in a leap frog of four teams into the top spot. A great effort considering their team didn’t include their inspirational leader Tom Gibbs.
Interestingly, the top ten positions within the event were all male teams, with a strong representation from the finance sector. Several over industry cups were also being battled out.
Teams moved on to the relative solace of a motivational speech from Mal Macgown the former SAS commander of Bravo Two Zero fame. Little did they know that they would be back out in the thick of the action in the early hours of Friday morning to undertake stage 4!
Stage 4 is the shortest in duration this year, but one of the most challenging due to its tricky nature, sleep depravation and heavy time penalties.
The goal of this one-hour fastest to finish stage was to construct an apparatus that enabled a golf ball to be moved without interference from team members from the start line, under and over two obstacles and finish up within a bucket, which was over four meters away. Sounds simple? Then try doing this with limited equipment and with just the small ray of light from your head touch!
Teams were provided with only a limited amount of equipment, including timber, ropes and string. The most crucial bit of kit was most definitely imagination and teamwork! After fifteen minutes it was clear that three main designs were being used, including pendulum, pinball and the most popular cantilever.
The course director fired the start gun and all four team members raced to their allocated team bays. Some teams discussed tactics while the majority worked it out as they went – trial and error seemed to be a major tactic for most teams!
The Army Training Unit from Bassingbourne had a storming stage, completing the task within 20 minutes and showing the corporate pen pushers how it’s done - jumping them up to 21st position!
As a concept Challenger World's intelligent sport™ format can be tough to pick up in the first year of competition, however Merrill Lynch (123) dispelled those thoughts with another excellent stage, consolidating their 3rd placing. Whilst AWE Consulting, another novice team squeezed into the top ten with a solid 38 minute task completion time.
Within the mixed team category Accenture (11) established an excellent lead, 16 places ahead of they’re nearest rival, Aspen Re, another novice team. At the top of the competition were Airbus, who consolidated their position in the lead with an excellent 30 minute completion time.
After a well deserved rest, teams will be nervously looking ahead to tomorrows epic 6 hour stage!
The event was gifted with another beautiful day, with temperatures high and minimal cloud cover. The convoy of minivans, which were provided through event partner AVIS, again rolled out of base. Many a strange look was received from the local farmers on route, who I doubt have never scene so much action on a Friday morning!
After a short half hour drive, teams faced Stage 6, an epic 6-hour challenge for those budding capitalists trying to expand their property portfolios. The aim of the stage was for teams to visit property points (PP’s), which were scattered around the stunning Welsh countryside either on foot, via mountain bike or canoe. Properties with higher points bonuses were located further away from the event base.
Once teams reached all the PP’s and collected their property cards, they could start making significant time savings, as this enabled them to target apartment points (AP’s), which would result in significant time savings.
At the outset teams were provided with two maps, a property info sheet listing all the locations and values for the PP’s on the course, which were deciphered from grid references.
The key to success on this stage was for teams to work out an initial strategy based upon the fitness of their team, the course and the conditions. Many teams wisely took their time at this stage, as any minor miscalculations here would dramatically affect the distance that they need to cover throughout the afternoon.
After the start the majority of teams split into pairs to achieve their goals, with two members attempting to reach the PP that were located on the shimmering reservoir, whilst the other two members tried to complete the mountain bike PP’s, which were located in the surrounding forest over 10 miles away.
Accenture (90) and (1) both had fantastic stages, achieving the red, green, white and yellow property sets, thus resulting in significant time bonuses and solidifying their position within the top five overall teams and top of the mixed team category.
Within the all female teams, the fight between Sainsbury’s (53) and Accenture (32) was definitely heating up with only 10 places standing between the two teams. It will be interesting to see who wins their way through to the World Team Challenge.
With half an hour to go, the finish line started to get very busy, with some exhausted, but totally elated teams. As the count down towards stage got nearer, the atmosphere picked up, with teams scurrying to the final dippers to avoid the steep time penalties that we would be incurred.
It was now time to go back to base, re-charge with dinner and meet your team’s senior executive, who would be play a crucial role in the upcoming night stage.
Senior Executives (SE) from each of the competing teams were brought into the action with key roles to play within the overall success of their team during this stage. These SE ranged from MD’s, CEO’s, Directors and Vice Presidents from many of the UK’s greatest organisations - so they should be used to the pressure!! This stage however was definitely going to put them on the chopping block, as the last two days of sweat and tears from their teams, was now going to rest directly on their shoulders, at this crucial time within the event.
After a short briefing, teams were now aware that Stage 6 has close ties with the board game scrabble, with a significant Challenger World twist. The aim of the two-hour stage was for teams to achieve the highest point score, resulting from collection of letters that were scattered throughout the woods. After collecting various letters, senior executives, with the help of their teams had to create the highest possible word score, utilizing the double point, triple team and various other bonuses that would boost their score and result in time savings.
Once the starting gun was fired from Alistair Baker, the Managing Director of Microsoft UK, teams hurtled through the dense woodland for a 15-minute run to meet up with their SE, who were nervously awaiting their team mates. In the meantime SE’s had to solve a numeric puzzle and then carefully plot their strategy as to which letter points to send their team mates, considering the various factors, which they were now confronted by.
Just so the SE’s didn’t have it too easy, Challenger World dangled some enticing blank letters close to the SE base. These blanks would prove crucial as the time and grammatical pressure increased on teams.
Team Quicksilva had an incredible stage, managing 109 points and increasing their overall time by 11 minutes, this resulted in a jump to 70th places. Additionally team 91, one of Lloyds TSB nine teams, managed a very respectable 101 points, which resulted in a move to 91st position. Whilst LogicaCMG (87) continued their strong performance by pushing ahead of their nine other teams, to 51st place.
At the front of the pack was the WDA (14) who moved into second place in the mixed competition, they were however over 29 places behind the front runners Accenture (90).
GCHQ started to establish a lead of over an hour from Airbus, which looked unassailable going into the final day. However it would be a brave person to count out the other contenders at this stage of the race with two varying stages left on Saturday.
This stage pitted teams head-to-head in a cunning ploy to get them competing directly against each other, at a crucial time in the event. It additionally took some focus away from the physically dominant teams and totally focused all the teams' energies on cognitive strength and lateral thinking under pressure.
The game, losing draughts, had exactly the same rules as normal draughts, excect the aim was to lose all of your team's pieces. The first player to lose all their pieces was the winner!!
Teams were in groups with 5 other teams, with each team member and team playing equal importance in this face-to-face challenge.
On the main stage the five leading teams battled out some intense matches. Particularly interesting was the face off between Airbus and GCHQ, the two leading teams at this stage. GCHQ came out on top with no defeats in their five matches. In fact the stage was jointly won by five unbeaten teams- Roche(34), Lloyds TSB Insurance(82), GCHQ(007), Daily Mail (112) and Front Line Construction(124). A great achievement and display of mental aptitude.
With only one stage to go the teams could now finally feel the end was in sight.
After 7 gruelling stages and 3 days of intelligent sport action, teams could now feel the finish was near. One 2.5-hour stage, however stood in between the nerves that they were facing and the exhilaration and champagne that were waiting at the finish line!
The goal of the final stage was for teams to visit all the equipment points that were scattered around the countryside on foot, which enabled them to build a stretcher to carry one of their team mates over the finishing line. Mixed amongst these points were key bonus points that could easily provide the crucial difference between the top teams.
Colin Jackson the Olympic hurdler got the 120-teams underway, which lead to a stream of colour, excitement and joy. The end goal and the final mountain to conquer was Constitution Hill, which is perched right above the coastal town of Aberystwyth. Upon descent, teams had the final push along the shimmering beach, carrying their team mate all the way through to the waiting teams, television and photographers.
With half an hour to go before stage finish, the majority of teams started to pour across the finish line. The feeling of immense elation and pride in their achievements was etched across everyone’s faces. Truly inspiring performances could be witnessed across the board, from the most advanced and well prepared teams, to those who showed up with little to no preparation. I know it’s a cliché, but ever team really was the winner through their performances over the previous four days.
Team GCHQ were too strong and claimed their first Microsoft UK Challenge victory, whilst Sainsbury’s (53) picked up the Best All Female title and Accenture (90) claimed the mixed team category.
Now it was time fore all teams to go back to base camp and really let their hair down at the prize giving and post event party!!
To check out all the results and prize winners, check out the trophy winners section of the website.