With the urban disciplines completed, the WOC 2018 competitors moved inland to the town of Sigulda. Situated on the Gauja river, the remaining races of the week will all take place around the town, across the valley carved through the local sandstone by the Gauja River.
Tuesday saw a return to the individual disciplines with the Middle Distance race, and it was the Women who began proceedings yet again. The hot temperatures which they had experienced in Riga seemed to abate, and rain met the Women as they began affairs. The courses weren’t quite as predicted from the model terrain. All reports from the model areas were that they were tough, grotty forests, which were hard to pass through easily. In contrast, though the visibility was low, the runnability was vastly superior to the model terrain. Additionally, the expected steep slopes of the Gauja governed the first half of each course, before a flat, vague section on the rivers reedbeds in the middle of both courses, which required competitors to alter their technique (and which many failed to do), and which many may have been unprepared for.
Charlotte Watson was the first Brit into the forest and started strongly. The first control would cause havoc across both races, but Charlotte spiked it, already catching and passing her 2-minute woman. Accelerating through the next section, she was solidly positioned at the first TV split. Behind her – starting just 4 minutes later – Megan Carter Davies had also started in a similar fashion, taking the lead through the first TV split at control 6. Through to control 9, and the start of the flatter section, both ladies were keeping the pace high and running well. Here though, Charlotte’s race began to come unstuck, losing contact in the vague contours and falling out of contention. Megan managed to hold her nerve though, and although she made a small error on the 11th control – the second TV split – she was holding her own.
Around them, many were losing their heads, though home favourite Sandra Grosberga kept in control over the second half to post a leading time which Megan would fail to better, slipping to second as she finished. It was at this point that the main favourites got underway, one by one they began to make errors in the forest. Sara Hagstrom of Sweden performed well and would post a leading time which would stand for a long time until Isia Basset of France stormed down the run-in to post a new lead and a first time under the 34-minute barrier. Catherine Taylor of GBR had an equally solid start to her two compatriots, but suffered on the steep slopes, struggling to hold her lines. She would eventually run with Marianne Andersen of Norway, who after early errors, was running strongly, and behind them, Marika Teini of Finland (the European Champion) was struggling to get onto terms with the group which had formed at the 6th control. Teini though would hold her own out there, and finish well, besting Basset’s time by 24 seconds. It was assured at this point that favourite Tove Alexanderson of Sweden would take yet another gold medal, but disaster struck her run. After a miss on the 2nd control, she failed to find the 3rd, going to the 4th control first, thinking that (we assume) it was the 3rd. This was the start of a near 18-minute error from which she would never recover, and never find the 3rd control. She didn’t quit though and admirably finished the course. This opened the door to a new champion, and it was Natalia Gemperle of Russia who would seize the opportunity. So many times, she had stepped onto the podium, only to have been bettered by Alexanderson, but not today. By the finish, she had taken out 1.30 on Teini and had done enough to seal a maiden individual title at the World Championships.
Megan had done enough to hang onto 20th place, her first World Championships top-20, with Cat in 26th and Charlotte in 53rd on a very demanding day in the forest for everyone.
Turning to the Men’s race – which had already started in the final hour of the Women’s action – the and the course would play havoc with everyone; though at least the rain had abated. The early pace-setting was done by Matt Doyle of Australia. Making his World Championships debut, Doyle would hold the lead for an hour, before first being bettered by Krepsta of Lithuania, before the 2012 champion and home favourite Edgars Bertuks came into the lead, the first man to break 37-minutes. And begin to bring the times closer to the predicted inning time of 33-minutes.
Alasdair McLeod was the first British man into the forest with, but had a tough start to the course, struggling in the first half. He settled after the 6th control, but it was too little too late, and the damaged had been done. He pushed well for the second half, but it was far from what Ali had hoped for. He was not the only one though, with numerous favourites making errors, so many in fact that we cannot list them all here; it seems unlikely that any runner at the Middle could claim they ran a perfect race.
Behind Ali, his teammate Ralph Street was on for a fantastic run. Like so many others, he made an early mistake on the first control. After this, however, he was completely clean. Losing nearly 2-minutes on the 1st control, he was running at a similar rate to the medallists for the remainder of his course, and would eventually finish 13th, a mere 1.58 down on the gold. It is a fantastic confirmation for Ralph that he is now amongst the best in the world, and on his day, he is capable of a top-10 and even more.
In the fight for gold, it was even more thrilling than the Women’s race. For a long time, it looked like last year’s silver medallist, Oleksandr Kratov of Ukraine would take home a gold medal that has proved elusive to him. Arguably the best technical orienteer in the world, he was holding leading splits throughout, but would just fall short in the final loop after the other runners accelerated in the final kilometre. Big favourite Olav Lundanes would throw his gold medal chance in the vague reedbeds which had cost so many others – including last year’s bronze medallist Fabia Hertner of Switzerland. Hertner’s teammates though had no such issues. Mattias Kyburz made early errors but caught Hertner and the two flew around the second half, and after being behind Krativ, beat the Ukrainian by 16 seconds in the finish. It would get even tighter from there, with Kyburz compatriot Florian Howald backing up his European Champs medal, flowing through the terrain and pipping Kyburz by 9 seconds. Behind him though, the final two starters were on his tail. Eskil Kinneberg avoided the mistakes of Lundanes and by the 2nd TV split at control 12, had taken the lead. He would hold it from here to the finish, kicking on and holding his form to take 14 seconds out of Howald, who suffered in the final 400 metres. Despite early mistakes for Sprint Distance champion Daniel Hubmann, he posted solid splits throughout and surged through in the final kilometre to take the silver medal, just beating Howald by 8 seconds but it wasn’t enough to deny Kinneberg his first individual World title at senior level.
1 Natalia Gemperle Russian Federation 32:02
2 Marika Teini Finland 33:32 +1:30
3 Isia Basset France 33:56 +1:54
20 Megan Carter Davies Great Britain 36:58 +4:56
26 Catherine Taylor Great Britain 38:15 +6:13
53 Charlotte Watson Great Britain 44:58 +12:56
1 Eskil Kinneberg Norway 32:59 0:00
2 Daniel Hubmann Switzerland 33:05 +0:06
3 Florian Howald Switzerland 33:13 +0:14
13 Ralph Street Great Britain 34:57 +1:58
52 Alasdair McLeod Great Britain 42:01 +9:02
The racing will get back underway on Thursday with the Men's and Women's Forest Relays. Well done to all our athletes today!
Report by William Gardner