It had finally clouded over in Kuortane by the time the runners of the 2018 World University Championships were ready to start the Long Distance. Two years ago, the best British result was that of Charlotte Watson, who claimed an impressive 12th place, with Swede Rassmus Andersson winning the Men’s race and Fin Ana Haataja winning the Women’s race. With neither of the defending champions in attendance, there would be two new winners in 2018.
The terrain for the Long was similar to that of the Middle, with vague contours shape, low visibility green, but with long route choices which created wide differences in routes between the top runners. The first Brits out into the forest were in the Men’s race, which started half an hour before the Women’s.
Joe Woodley was first up and had a stable start though gradually lost time throughout, and despite picking similar routes to the eventual winners tired towards the end and mistakes crept in. This would be the tale of many runners out there today. Matt Elkington was next up for the men and had a very smooth start. Though he made a slight error towards the crucial pre-butterfly control, he was caught by the flying Heimdal of Norway. These two would work well together before the long leg back to the arena. Dropping off the back of Heimdal, Matt made some errors on the 15th and 16th controls – two controls that would prove costly for nearly half the field, particularly 16 which would claim high profile victims in both races.
Whilst Matt and Joe were out in the forest Fay Walsh and Cecilie Andersen had both started. Fay put in solid splits the whole way, never lighting up the board but never making huge errors. She had clearly learnt well from the Middle distance and Cecilie meanwhile carried on her good form from the week so far, and was solidly in the top-10 during her run, running for parts with long-time leader Tommer of SUI. It was 5th place for Fay at the finish, and where others were making errors Cecilie nailed the tricky 14th control (16th on the Men’s course), hitting possibly the cleanest of any runner on both courses.
Ben Mitchell was the next runner out of the blocks, and though he made an early error and had the occasional slip with his compass direction, was reliable throughout. With no major errors and strength in the terrain, Ben gradually made his way back up the splits board whilst others dropped off. Like Cecilie, he hit the final difficult controls cleanly, which jumped him up the board, with 21st at the finish.
Sarah Jones was next into the forest for the Women, and it was a tough day at the office. It seems Sarah never quite got her head into the terrain, and struggled throughout. No one can deny her commitment and drive, however, as she battled all the way and didn’t drop out like many would have. Elsewhere, the last Brits, Megan Carter-Davies and Jonathan Crickmore were out into the woods. It’s clear that Megan was on a fantastic day, quickest at the first split, and improving that at the second before the long legs back to the arena. A small slip on the first of these was countered by mistakes from the other favourites, but on the 14th, her race came unstuck. She battled through to the end, but gone was the medal which for so long seemed possible.
For Jonny, it was a race of two halves. Again, early errors cost time, but for a long time, he was running alongside a big group of others, running quickly and navigating well. In the latter stages though, he too would begin to drift off the pace and fall back down the results. It has come to light though that he twisted his ankle out in the terrain (though where exactly we are unsure), and did well to finish the course.
In the fight for the medals, it was a Scandinavian and Swiss battle in both courses. The leader in the Men’s for a long time was Håvard Haga, two minutes quicker than his teammate Heimdal – Haga, whose sister won two gold medals at the Winter Olympics in cross-country skiing. It was Jonas Egger though, medallist in the 2016 Sprint Distance, who would prove victorious though, smashing Haga’s time. He would only be challenged by another Norwegian Paul Sirum, who would come in just 50 seconds down for second place.
For the Women, it was again Norway in the fight for medals. Tommer was initially beaten by her teammate Paula Gross, but Marie Olaussen of Norway was too fast for everyone. Demolishing Gross’ splits, she finished 2.30 ahead of the Swiss runner. Swedish athlete Öberg was the only person who looked close to challenging Olaussen, but she too would fall short, having to settle for silver.
Men: Ben Mitchell – 30th, Jonathan Crickmore – 31st, Matt Elkington – 43rd, Joe Woodley – 51st.
Women: Megan Carter-Davies – 15th, Cecilie Andersen – 24th, Fay Walsh – 32nd, Sarah Jones, 77th.
Full results can be found here.
Starting at 8:00 UK time for the women, and 9:30 for the Men, the relay is the final discipline of the 2018 championships. With the same terrain as today’s long distance, runners will need to remain calm under pressure and focus on themselves, as the vague contour detail could cause havoc in the fast-paced relay environment. Expect athletes running way overspeed, enter sections of forest under pressure to catch time, and making big mistakes as a result. A fast pace will be needed, but any error could result in minutes lost for any team.
The teams for Britain are as yet unconfirmed.