The sun was beating down again on Kuortane as the third race of the World University Championships got underway. In 2016, the British team dominated the Sprint race (the first race of the championships that year). In the Women’s race, the team took home two top-10 results with Charlotte Ward (7th) and Megan Carter-Davies (8th), with Katie Reynolds just a bit further back. In the Men’s race, Kris Jones took the Gold medal on a day where it was 4 Brits in the top-12, with Will Gardner in 6th, Peter Hodkinson =9th and Jonathan Crickmore in 12th. It would, of course, be difficult for the team to reprise the performances of two years ago, with a very different course in front of them.
With virtually no climb on either course, the pace would always be high, which brings with it the risk of runners over-running and going into oxygen debt and making mistakes. Technically, the courses were far more challenging than those of the Mixed Sprint Relay two days ago. Though no sections of intricate technicality, there were wide route choices on nearly every leg, so it would be the runner who spotted the quickest routes every time and could hold their speed over the distance who would take home the gold.
Matthew Elkington was the first British runner out into the terrain and performed admirably. Making no mistakes in the early going he was in touch for a good result, but as the race opened up, just slipped back when the later runner's pace began to show. Sasha Chepelin and Katie Reynolds were next up into the terrain, start at virtually the same time. Just prior to the Brits starting, the leading times had been smashed in both the Men’s and the Women’s races. Henry McNulty of Australia had posted a time 30 seconds quicker than any other runner, whilst Aleksandra Hornik of Poland (who anchored the Polish Mixed Sprint Relay team to a medal two days ago) demolished the leading time, being the first runner to dip under 14 minutes, Sasha (who didn’t race the sprint in 2016) started like a rocket, challenging the early leading splits posted by Anton Johansson (SWE) and Paul Sirum (NOR), but he couldn’t quite match the pace of McNulty over the latter stages. It would be 2nd for Sasha at the finish, but soon news filtered through that he had apparently mispunched. For Katie, it was a tale of a significant difference from her race at the 2016 championships. She blitzed through the early splits and held her form strongly through to the finish to take 5th place as the start list passed its halfway point.
Cecilie Andersen and Nathan Lawson were the next Brits up, again starting at virtually the same time. Cecilie lost some time early on but managed to recoup those loses slightly and lost no further time through to the finish, pulling herself up the standings and backing up her solid run from the Sprint Relay. Nathan started well and was on for a possible top-20, but mistakes began to creep in from the halfway point under the heat of the sun, and he gradually drifted back, to finish just 5 seconds ahead of his clubmate Matt Elkington.
Jonathan Crickmore and Chloe Potter were the next runners for Britain out of the start gate, and it would be Jonny that began to light up the timing screens. Starting quickly, he was challenging the leaders throughout the first half of the race, picking good routes and losing no time. Again, similar to so many others, he would drift back in the second half as the heat sapped the energy from the legs. Chloe backed up her decent results from JWOC last week, and put in another solid technical performance, nailing the route choices throughout her race to finish just a handful of seconds down on Andersen.
It was now that the big names came out to play though, with Weiler of Hungary and Ruch of Switzerland posting positive splits across the board in the women’s race to shift Hornik off the top spot, and would finish just 05. Seconds apart, with Weiler coming out the victor. For the Men it was a Kiwi, Tim Robertson, that would deny the Australians gold, beating everyone at each split point to take another World title to back up his two at Junior level in 2014 and 2015. Norwegian Trond Einer Moen Pedersli, one of the final starters, would split the Oceania duo taking the silver medal and pushing McNulty into 3rd.
Finally, after a nervous couple of hours wait, Sasha Chepelin was reinstated into the competition. It had taken until all the control watchers were back from the terrain for them to confirm that he had indeed visited the controls, and was duly reinstated into 5th place.
Full results are here, and for Great Britain are as follows:
Men: Sasha Chepelin – 5th, Jonny Crickmore – 9th, Nathan Lawson – 35th, Matt Elkington – 37th.
Women: Katie Reynolds – 11th, Cecilie Andersen – 33rd, Chloe Potter – 35th.
Quotes from the Team:
Matt Elkington – The race was hard work. I made a couple of bad route choices and made an error close to the finish, but it was an OK run. Areas of the map were quite confusing, not looking anything as expected, so that added an extra challenge to the speed and the heat.
The Long Distance:
It’s back to the forests tomorrow for the final individual discipline, the Long Distance. This is the one that all the athletes want to win, and the one with the most prestige associated with it. The terrain looks like it will be similar to the Middle Distance, so if the temperatures remain hot, it will be a very long and tough day out in the forests for many runners. The terrain for the Middle was rougher underfoot than many expected, though some described it as lovely, so it could all be down to the mentality that the runners take into the events that could give them a result.