The World University reached its climax with the relay discipline. Run on the same terrain as the end of Friday’s Long Distance, the terrain was vague and green, with the 2.5m contours playing havoc with the confidence runners had in their technique, interspersed with rockier sections to test the strength of the athletes.
The British teams were as follows:
GBR1 - Cecilie Andersen, Fay Walsh, Megan Carter-Davies
GBR2 - Chloe Potter, Sarah Jones, Katie Reynolds
GBR1 - Ben Mitchell, Jonny Crickmore, Sasha Chepelin
GBR2 - Nathan Lawson, Joe Woodley, Matt Elkington
The Women kicked off proceedings, and it was a gripping affair right from the off. Five teams broke away early, forming an elite leading pack which drove a high pace at the front of the field, featuring both Norwegian teams, Russia, Switzerland and Finland. GBR1 settled nicely into the chasing pack, and whilst having the longer gaffles early on, held firm and were stable in the early going. Through the spectator, Finland had got a small gap off the front, with many teams making errors on the difficult gaffle of the 7th control.
It had been a tougher start for GBR2, who had made early errors, and the team – like many others – would struggle to get to grips with the map throughout the day. It would be the hone team of Finland to change over first though, with Norway and Switzerland just behind. GBR1 finished in the large chasing pack, just 2.30 down, with everything to play for. Early on the second leg, the pack completely disintegrated, with all runners struggling on the first two gaffled controls. Switzerland and Sweden 2 escaped the best, breaking away from the rest, with Switzerland building up a 50 second lead by the spectator control. Behind, Fay Walsh for GBR1 struggled in the early green, but settled and hit the remainder of her controls cleanly and was pulling up places throughout the rest of her course. For GBR2 and Sarah Jones, the day went from bad to worse, but they kept battling and showing the true spirit of the team.
Switzerland finished the second leg in the lead, but their lead had been halved by a four-person chasing pack, including CZE, GER, FIN and NOR. The lead would change hands too many times on this leg to count, with Finland eventually running clear to a minute lead by halfway. Behind, Megan Carter-Davies had started well and was eating into the gaps in front of her. In front, with Norway joining the battle for Gold, the fight got even close, and into the spectator, it was Finland with a narrow lead over Norway and then Switzerland. Finland would then make a late mistake on the next control, letting Norway slip through to the lead. Finland’s superior speed told though, and they came agonisingly close to bridging the gap, but Olaussen of Norway (the Long Distance gold medallist) had too much in the tank, and came home for her second gold medal of the championships, with Finland in Silver and Switzerland in bronze. Megan had a good run behind, but had trouble with her compass, though still managed to climb to 10th from 14th by the finish, and was good enough for 7th nation on the day.
Onto the Men and it was no less exciting than the climax of the Women’s racing. In the early going on leg 1, it was altogether in the forest, but as they closed on spectator Finland 2 attempted a breakaway. They would hold this position to the end as the pack eventually began to disintegrate as the pace began to build upon the return to the arena. Ben Mitchell put in a textbook display of first leg running, never doing anything risky, and finished just 1.30 down in 12th. Nathan Lawson for GBR2 performed similarly, though just lost touch towards the end, finishing in 18th.
Six teams quickly broke away at the start of the 5th leg, hitting their 2nd control in a detailed rocky section cleanly. These included both teams from Norway and Finland, and two lone teams from the French and Swiss, with Jonny Crickmore of GBR1 leading the chasing pack behind with Joe Woodley of GBR2 just slightly further back. Going through an incredibly vague section through controls 5-8, GBR1 would make two crucial errors which cost them dearly, dropping out of contention and away from the chasing pack. Meanwhile, GBR2 (incidentally a team made up entirely of runners from the University of Sheffield), hit their controls precisely to jump up the order. While many big teams (including both of Sweden’s) made errors, Woodley got a small gap and was solo in 8th as they headed back to the arena.
Joe had clearly learnt from his mistakes in the middle distance, and whilst nearly everyone else, including the leaders, made errors on the 9th, he was through cleanly. Through spectator and it was Norway through first, just 12 seconds up on France and a further 50 seconds up on the chasing Finnish teams and Switzerland. Into the finish and Norway had a 50-second gap over a compact group of 5 behind, with GBR2 being caught by the chasers on the final loop but were still in the fight for a top-5 place if things went well. Behind GBR1 had continued to struggle, but Jonny settled towards the end and navigated through the last loop cleanly to finish in 17th.
On the final leg, it was as nip-tuck as the Women’s race earlier in the day. Norway remained away for the first half of the course, through the vague sections, but was gradually losing time all the way to the chasers, and as they turned for home and the difficult 9th control, they were caught. Matt Elkington behind though was hitting everything cleanly. Whilst others were losing their heads, he held his and was in 6th coming across the vague slopes to the 9th control, with the Czech Republic the main danger, with Sweden having already gone clear at the end of leg 2.
At the spectator control, Norway had got back clear, with a 40-second gap to the Fins and a further 20 seconds to the Swiss, with France falling back and into the clutches of GBR behind. Norway, despite mistakes in the final section, had enough in the tank to stay clear and take a second gold medal for the day, but behind it was a dramatic sprint finish between the three chasers. It would be FIN1 who had the best sprint and would take another silver medal, with Switzerland just pipping the Finnish 2nd team for bronze. Sadly, a late mistake at the end of what was an outstanding run, cost Matt dearly, finishing in 7th just losing out to the Czech Republic and France. It was an outstanding performance for the second team though, who gained time on Sasha Chepelin of the first team throughout.
Full results can be found here, but the GBR results are as follows:
Women: GBR1 – 7th nation (10th team), GBR2 – 24th team.
Men: GBR2 – 7th nation (10th team), GBR1 – 14th team.
Well done to all other athletes over the week!