The World Cup Final in the Czech Republic kicked off with the new ‘knock out sprint’ format on Thursday. This discipline will be part of the World Championships from 2020 and for a lot of athletes, this was their first opportunity to try it out.
The day started with a qualification race in Stromovka Park, with the best 12 from each heat progressing to the quarterfinals (36 women and 36 men). The races were highly competitive with just 20 seconds between 1st and 12th place in many of the heats. Alice Leake (3rd), Cat Taylor (4th) & Peter Hodkinson (7th) progressed to the next round with the other British athletes narrowly missing out. Two of the runners battling for the overall World Cup victory (Natalia Gemperle of Russia and Olav Lundanes of Norway) also missed out on qualifying showing just how tough it was to make the quarter-final.
Tactics then came into play as the qualified athletes were able to choose which of the six quarter-finals they wanted to run in, with the highest qualified athletes choosing first. Some athletes made their choice based on how much rest they wanted between the rounds, others chose to avoid the strongest athletes to give themselves the best chance of progressing, and others chose to face the strongest athletes in the hope that other runners of a similar ability would then be dissuaded and they could qualify safely in 2nd or 3rd place.
With quarterfinal, start lists decided it was time for the second round. This featured a ‘course choice’ element where, with one minute to go, runners had 20 seconds to look at 3 different map segments and decide which they wanted to run as part of their course. This proved quite decisive as some variations were much longer than others, and there was very little time to make the complex choice. The top 3 athletes from each quarterfinal (18 women and 18 men) progressed to the afternoon's semifinals. Unfortunately, none of the British athletes made it through the very close and competitive races, missing out by just a few seconds; with the course choice and some less than runnable forest proving costly.
The afternoon’s semi-finals and final moved from the park to some really exciting multi-level terrain and also featured ‘course choice’ as well as more traditional butterfly loops. The competition was eventually won by Judith Wyder of Switzerland and Vojtech Kral of Czech Republic.
The event generated a lot of discussion between the British team on how we can improve at and practice the skills needed to excel in this new format, and also an interesting debate between the nations about the best forking method to use going forwards (course choice, phi loop/butterfly, or unforked), with the final decision being made in November.
Official results from the Knockout Sprint are here
In contrast to most sprint relays the World Cup Final sprint relay race took place in Petrin, a steep forest park within the city of Prague. Great Britain had 3 complete teams and Fay Walsh made her international senior debut running in a mixed team. Alice Leake and Kirstin Maxwell both enjoyed some time in the front pack sitting in 3rd and 7th respectively around halfway but suffered from longer gaffles in the second half and some less favoured forest type legs so dropped down the field. Jo Shepherd ran a strong second half to finish just behind Alice overall.
Jonny Crickmore recovered well from an early mistake keeping in touch with the teams ahead and senior debutants Matthew Fellbaum and Alex Carcas put on solid performances (only 2secs apart!)
Sasha Chepelin and Jamie Parkinson kept their teams in the chasing pack while Charlotte Watson stepped up and ran a men’s leg to complete team GBR3 (after multiple male dropouts), where she more than held her own.
Cat Taylor ran well on the final leg pulling up 4 places and bringing GBR home as 10th nation. Charlotte Ward, who looked to gain value 4th leg experience really enjoyed the challenges which the course presented which forced her out with her confront zone. She managed to gain 3 places and beat Denmark’s first team in a sprint finish. Sarah Jones enjoyed getting experience racing at this level before her more favoured forest discipline the following day. Sarah did also manage to stay ahead of multiple teams containing 2 men!
Find the official results here.
The action moved to the challenging rocky terrain tomorrow for the World Cup Final middle distance.