Victory for Denmark in the Sprint Relay!
Sprint Relay Report
Superb run from Maja Alm on last lap to take the gold medal
Denmark secured the first gold medal of the 2015 World Orienteering Championships in a thrilling Sprint Relay in Nairn this evening, with Norway in second place and Russia third, while Switzerland, the pre-race favourites, had to settle for fourth.
With a spectacular race arena right on the shore of the Moray Firth, Nairn offered a great variety of orienteering challenges. The first part of the courses took runners back and forth between a tricky area of sand dunes and the potentially confusing parallel streets of the town centre, with some big route choices where vital seconds could be gained or lost. The latter part of the course was potentially faster but demanded total concentration, with controls on subtle contour features in an area of open parkland.
Switzerland and Denmark – last year's gold and silver medallists – were again the pre-race favourites, with both fielding identical teams to last year. Denmark were strengthened by the return of Emma Klingenberg, who sat out yesterday's individual Sprint Qualification, while Sweden – who may otherwise also have been among the favourites for gold – were without Tove Alexandersson, who is carrying an injury and will want to make sure she is fully fit for tomorrow's Sprint Final.
Denmark led from the start of the race, with Emma Klingenberg – running on fresh legs – pulling away from the pack between controls 3 and 4. The Russian, Swiss and New Zealand runners took advantage of a shorter gaffle to nip ahead of Klingenberg at control 7, but a combination of faster running speed and a good route choice to control 10 allowed Klingenberg to re-establish her lead, and she handed over at the end of lap one 46 seconds ahead of the chasing pack – a fantastic performance.
Klingenberg seemed rightly pleased with her run, saying:
My race was good. I actually stopped to look at the map several times to make sure I got the right route choice.
Lia Patscheider also had a very strong run on lap one, staying in the chasing pack throughout and then producing a burst of speed at the end to bring the Italian team back in a surprise second position:
The first part of the race on the sand was slow running. I started slowly and assessed the options. The course was very challenging, and I made some mistakes in the city centre. I didn't know I was in the leading group!
Tue Lassen ran well to maintain Denmark's lead on lap two, pursued by for most of the way by a small pack of Swiss, French, Lithuanian and Swedish runners, who reduced the gap to 32 seconds by the end of the leg. Lassen admitted that it had been a challenge having to go out so far ahead of the the pack, and that he had had to concentrate hard to avoid mistakes. Jerker Lysell brought Sweden back in third position at the end of lap 2, saying:
It was good at the beginning as I had the short gaffle, together with Switzerland and Lithuania. The course was tricky and the artificial fences added an extra challenge.
Lassen handed over to 2014 World Sprint Champion Søren Bobach on lap 3. Bobach also had a good run, but Matthias Kyburz of Switzerland, despite admitting that he had difficulty understanding the map at first, was quicker through the fast open section towards the end of the course and caught Bobach on the run-in to send the Swiss and Danish final-lap runners out side-by-side. Jonas Leandersson sent Sweden out in third position, only 18 seconds down on the leaders.
Judith Wyder, running the fourth and final lap for Switzerland, was the 2014 World Sprint Champion, but has had a difficult 2015 so far. Denmark's Maja Møller Alm beat Wyder in their Sprint Qualification race yesterday, and while the two were neck-and-neck at first, Alm soon again appeared to have an edge over Wyder in terms of speed, running superbly to open up a 19-second lead by the spectator control. Wyder then made two poor route choices from control 9 to 10 and 10 to 11, costing her around thirty seconds. This allowed Alm to extend her lead to over a minute and put Wyder herself in danger of being caught by the chasing pack.
Although Sweden's Karolin Ohlsson was unable to take immediate advantage, having herself made a small navigational error that cost around 30 seconds on her way to control 10, the chasing pack of Norway, Sweden, Russia, Finland and France now had Wyder in their sights.
While Alm further extended her lead at the front to a massive 1m21s, bringing Denmark home to an ultimately comfortable and well-deserved gold medal, Anne Margrethe Hausken Nordberg of Norway and Galina Vinogradova of Russia continued to narrow the gap to Wyder in second place. Ultimately both were able to produce an extra burst of speed through the last few hundred metres to get ahead of the Swiss and secure silver and bronze medals respectively.
Alm was clearly delighted with her result, saying:
It was a lot of pressure for the start of the race. I couldn't believe I was in with a chance of gold, so there was a lot of pressure. I just want to thank everyone on the team.
Also happy was Danish coach Lars Lindström:
It's fantastic! We've tried to do things our own way. We've been working hard since our success last year, so I'm very happy.
Galina Vinogradova admitted that she had surprised herself with her excellent run to secure bronze for Russia, having started the lap in tenth position:
It was very fast – I didn't realise my position until the second half. I saw Judith [Wyder], but initially didn't believe I could catch her, or realise that I was in the running for the bronze medal!
Alm will now surely go into tomorrow's Sprint Final as one of the favourites after today's brilliant performance, although there she will need to contend with Tove Alexandersson and Minna Kauppi, both of whom will be relatively fresh after not running today.
Maja Møller Alm
Håkon Jarvis Westergård
Øystein Kvaal Østerbø
Anne Margrethe Hausken Nordberg