Emily Benham and Krystof Bogar have had the most individual success; Russia heads the World Championships points table; the Relay World Cup was won by the Czech Republic.
Emily Benham, Great Britain and Olga Shipilova-Vinogradova, Russia both won 4 individual World Championship medals, with Benham the most successful with 2 golds, 1 silver and 1 bronze. Awarding 3 points for a gold, 2 for a silver and 1 for a bronze, Benham has 9 points and Shipilova-Vinogradova has 7, so Emily Benham gets the title of ‘Queen of the Championships’. Next, most successful rider overall was Martina Tichovska, Czech Republic with 2 silver medals (4 points).
No other rider in the whole Championships scored more than 3 points, but those with 3 points included five gold medallists, an indication of the breadth of talent these days in MTBO.
Combining these results with the European Championships and World Cup Round 1 earlier in the year, Emily Benham and Krystof Bogar are the World Cup winners overall, Benham with a lead of 45 points and Bogar 21 points in front. This is Benham’s fourth overall victory in successive years, after three years with Marika Hara (Finland) at the top.
Jennie Taylor, Communications Officer at British Orienteering caught up with Emily Benham (GBR) to congratulate her on her recent amazing success and to get her personal account of her recent races, what it felt like crossing the finishing line, being on the podium having achieved so many medals and becoming the overall World Cup Champion!
Emily Benham (GBR), said:
“Since my first medal in 2012, winning the World Championships has been a realistic goal and not just a dream. It took me 4 more years to get there. Over those four years, I started to win World Cup races. First one victory, then three in a row with 7 of 8 races in the top 3, then a second European Champs gold and a full season in the top 6. Over those years my consistency at the top end of racing improved. No longer were podium results my outliers and anomalies. Instead, they became the norm; the average. But I still needed a bit of luck to win, and still, the elusive World Champion title was missing.
Suddenly in 2016, I could achieve that consistency on the top step of the podium, with 5 of 8 wins in the World Cup and three second places. Included within that were my strongest World Championship results (at the time) of two gold medals and one silver.
Goal setting for 2017 was a little tough. Top of the list sat 'Fight for the win in every MTBO race'. With the knowledge that as long as I fight to win every race, then it is hard for me to not be at or near the top. As one of the most consistent athletes in MTBO, I knew that would put me in good standing for my fourth consecutive World Cup title.
For the first World Cup round, I was just starting a two month period with a heavy physical feeling in my legs. And no MTBO races. It required a huge amount of mental preparation in the days before to find the right mind set, but each race plan only focussed on finding the flow and finding every junction easier said than done in Austria! In the end, I could win two races, and take my largest winning margin to date.
Onwards to the European Champs and I had a new set of challenges to face: no Hans Jørgen and life with a team. The cost was prohibitive and I nearly made the decision not to race, but in the end was adopted by the Swedish team for the week. Despite the generosity of the Swedes, the cost still meant HJ couldn't be there with me. It was tough to deal with a few things, but at least he was on the other end of the phone each day to discuss race plans, terrain and likely route choices. The week was a mixed affair, with a stupid map reading error leading to a miss punch, a European Champion title and then my lowest result in nearly two years; a bronze! Three lessons were learned the hard way, but most importantly I had lost a vital race in the World Cup standings, meaning my World Championships needed to go well.
The World Championships popped by before I knew it, and the week before was a mad rush of wedding planning. We failed in that aspect so a lot of the World Champs week was spent dealing with that as efficiently as possible. Thusly, I'm better at compartmentalising my life that I was two weeks ago!
I openly acknowledged the first race was held on terrain that isn't a good fit for my riding or orienteering style, and we put a lot of work in to get me to a place where I could genuinely fight for the gold. Given my confidence issues in the terrain style and inability to confidently identify the best route choice the race plan worked around commitment and instinct rather than overthinking. I was happy with the bronze because I had been able to find the flow, ride to my plan, and fought hard on the gruelling climbs. Barring my two mistakes, I saw that I was racing on par with the gold medallist, and that filled me with excitement for the next races.
After a few years of discussions, MTBO could finally introduce its fifth format to the World Championships: the mass start. Somewhere between and Middle and Long, the estimated winning time is around 75 minutes. Ranked as World Number One, I could take the coveted first position on the start line. I love mass start racing in MTBO as the pressure of dealing with other athletes around, different forkings and the overspeed racing, really suits me. As a less physically fit athlete, I disliked them, but the game changes at the front. I often find myself leading trains of 2 or 3 riders (once 5 riders) so leading a pack of 60 women to the first control was pretty exhilarating.
I had 3 tactical plans, which changed after every second map change. The final map was a common course for the final 20 minutes or so, and here I had many tactical plans depending on whether I was out in front, behind, and depending on who else was around. With 'plan Olga' activated I had to ride in a way that is unfamiliar, and deliberately let her take the lead and deliberately not go into overspeed just to stay with her when she made her attacks. I had to trust that every time she led and got a gap, that the effort would cause her to make a mistake and bring us back together. Which it did. For the final time, I thought she was far ahead, and knowing I was unlikely to outsprint her on the finish straight, continued with my plan and accepted a great silver. Riding up the hill to the finish I could relax and enjoy the knowledge I was riding into a safe silver, with no one in sight ahead or behind.
After crossing the line, there was some confusion. The speaker wasn't really saying anything I could make sense of, and the spectators seemed a bit shocked. 'What's going on?' I asked. 'You won' they said... cue wild celebrations and a string of profanities!
As it later transpired, Olga hadn't found the final control and was rushing around the woods looking for it as I breezed past fully in control.
This was a really sweet tasting medal and such a surprise. I was still feeling overwhelmed by what had happened that when I stood on the podium there were tears of joy.
Onwards to the Long distance and a title defence never entered my mind. I've won 7 of the past 10 Long distance races at World Cup level (7 gold, one bronze, one fourth place and one 9th place), but in-spite of this statistic, the Long distance remains the race I have to work hardest for.
I had a scrappy start, losing around 30seconds during the first 20 minutes because I struggled to settle into the map. After the long route choice leg, I saw several competitors and realised we were all riding at around the same cumulative time at that moment. It put a bit of passion back into my mind and thereafter I could ride a bit faster and navigate cleanly. Suddenly, I picked up a train of 3 athletes and the race started to come together. I didn't always take the best route choices, sometimes losing up to 30seconds per time in the latter parts of the course, but critically, I never made any mistakes. Only on one control with many indistinct paths did I have some issues to find the way, but everyone else had more problems there. The penultimate climb was brutal. Just to get it over with, I rode sprinted up it, with the knowledge it was all downhill to the control afterwards. The final climb was a killer. With HJ screaming at me I was fighting for gold, I closed my eyes, hunched over the bars, and blew up my legs sprinting to the finish. Collapsing over the line it took several minutes before I could move. Walking was nearly impossible with legs made of heavy heavy metal. It took 20 minutes of cool down just to feel a normal post-race level of fatigue!
It was a tense thirty minutes to find out if I had done enough. It was a close race all the way between myself, Olga and Martina, but in the end, I could come out just 31 seconds on top. After 112 minutes of racing!
And finally the end of the week dawned, but first with the small matter of the sprint race. What to say! I gave it my best shot. I was fighting second-for-second for the gold, I was on the home straight with three controls left to go, but I could not find my exit from the control! Somehow I seem to have managed to disorientate myself by 90degrees so everything fit but didn't feel right. My race was strong enough that even with the mistake, it was enough for silver, but after taking four of four medals in the week, I was hardly disappointed.
It was a fantastic week in Lithuania, and to be so strong in all the individual races was amazing. Hard work, but amazing! I could wrap up my fourth consecutive World Cup title safely and leave with a 50% victory rate this season. This year the battle at the top has been stronger than ever, with three riders head-and-shoulders above the rest - similar to the Alexandersson, Gemperle and Alm fights we see in FootO at the moment.”
Thank you, Emily! British Orienteering and members are delighted for you. Many, many congratulations to you on your winning success!