Hot and humid conditions met the athletes for the first race of the 2018 World University Championships. The terrain was not as the athletes expected. Initially most had presumed artificial barriers would be used to make the terrain a real technical challenge. Instead, they were met with a combination of flat, urban sections, interspersed with featureless forest. Though there were some routechoices, these were minimal and primarily located at the beginning and end of the courses, with a long ungaffled section in the middle of each course, meaning that any navigation mistake would be amplified. With temperatures climbing to 32 degrees, the athletes would have to keep calm and not push too soon and risk blowing early in the race; a cool temperament would be essential if a team slipped behind the leaders.
Cecilie Anderson began proceedings for GBR, with a long first leg putting everyone under-pressure and Hungary and France making an early split in the bunch. Although she had a couple of the longer gaffles initially, Cecilie stabilised her run behind what had become a breakaway trio of France, Hungary and Switzerland. Handing over in 7th place, she sent Jonathan Crickmore out into the terrain just 30 seconds behind the leaders.
On leg 2, the leading trio began to extend their advantage, with Hungary initially breaking away, before France took the lead heading into the changeover. Behind Jonny was having a tough day, holding place in the group but making no inroads into the leaders, with the gap drifting out to 1:16 by the changeover.
On Leg 3, it was time for GBR to start making a comeback. Alexander Chepelin blitzed through the first splits, gaining time incessantly on Hungary, Poland and Spain in 4th, 5th and 6th. Picking clean routechoices when the other runners were focusing on the running pace, by the changeover Sasha had pulled the team up to 6th, just 1 second behind Hungary, but 50 seconds down on a medal position.
This left it up to Megan Carter-Davies to try to anchor the team to a second medal in successive championships for Great Britain. Megan started phenomenally quickly, and it was GBR and Poland moving the quickest of anyone in the terrain. By a third of the way through, Megan had already caught Norway, who had begun the leg in 3rd and had dropped Hungary, but with Poland moving just as quick, it would be tough to get a medal. On the commentary it was announced that the French last leg was beginning to suffer at the spectator run-through, offering a small glimmer of hope to Megan (who had already clawed back 40 seconds). A late mistake by both France and Poland opened the door, but sadly it was too much of a gap to close. It was, however, a fantastic run to bring the British team back into 4th place.
Full results can be found here.
Quotes from the Team:
Sasha Chepelin – My race was good. I felt a bit overheated at the start and wished I’d kept a bit cooler instead of warming up for so long. Luckily for me (but possibly not so for the rest of the team) it was more about flat out running today. A bit more technical orienteering would have been better for us, plus slightly cooler weather.
The Middle Distance:
After this solid start for the team, the athletes will move to the forest tomorrow for the Middle distance. Though vague the forest is apparently rough underfoot. There will be a high focus on good compass direction and again a high physical capacity will be needed to take a medal. First starts are from 08:00 UK time with medals expected to be decided around 12:00.
Two years ago, it was Lucy Butt who provided the top performance for Britain in the Women’s race, placing 19th, with William Gardner being the best of the Brits in the Men’s race, placing 13th. Let’s hope for even better from the runners tomorrow – good luck to all.