So near yet so far for the GB Team in the Mixed Sprint Relay at the World Orienteering Championships. The four Great Britain athletes put their all into the race but could not quite hold on to a medal position, ending up in 6th place behind winners Sweden.
The event, which consists of teams of two women and two men from each country, was held in Viljandi. The courses started into the scenic ruins of an old castle surrounded by enormous ramparts and earthworks. There was then a loop in the urban terrain around the old town before a run through the arena. Runners then performed another lap of the castle, with the men also getting to visit a very steep wooded area that was to prove critical to British hopes, and then it was all (mainly) downhill to the finish/changeover area. Many of the legs involved frequent short sharp climbs and descents, or the option of a much longer but flatter run around the valleys or over bridges.
Cat Taylor, running the first leg for Great Britain, led the whole field on the way to the first control and was always in the leading pack. She eventually handed over to Ralph Street in 6th position, just 11 seconds behind Switzerland in the lead, and safely in touch. Ralph also had a strong run, and British supporters were beginning to get excited as he handed over to Kris Jones in 2nd place, 3 seconds behind Switzerland and in a pack of five countries that had managed to get nearly a minute clear.
Photos below (left to right): Cat Taylor, Ralph Street, Kris Jones, Tessa Strain
Kris set off fast and was in the lead by control 2. He was still in the lead at the spectator control after the city section, still in the lead at the arena run-through and still in the lead at the TV control in the castle. But then disaster struck as he headed into the steep wooded section. Pushing possibly too hard he lost contact in the confusing contour, path and vegetation detail and spectators could only watch in horror as his GPS track on the big screen did a large loop around the wrong hill. Martin Hubmann of Switzerland was making a similar mistake at the same time, and it was Sweden who took the lead at the change-over, with big gaps back to the Czech Republic and Russia.
Kris fought on to the finish and handed over to Tessa Strain in 6th place, 1.56 down on the leaders. Tessa was running as fast as the leaders and kept the gap to the lead at around two minutes for most of the way, but she could not quite get back in contact with the runners ahead. In the end, Great Britain had to settle for a frustrating 6th place, knowing that they had been so close to a medal.
At the front, it was Sweden who maintained their lead to take the victory, with Denmark in second and Switzerland third.
Tomorrow is a rest day, and the action then moves to the south of Estonia for the Long Distance race on Tuesday.
Photo below: Sprint Relay start. GB Cat Taylor (front row, third from the left).
Photos: Simon Errington