Map section, showing the gaffling style and use of artificial barriers
The World Championships (WOC) Sprint Relay took place in the early evening of Sunday 4th July in the host town Doksy.
Recognising that the town is "not particularly complicated in terms of elite runner navigation" the planning used artificial barriers and plentiful gaffling (British English uses a Swedish word, International English calls it "forking".)
It was a great sight, a picturesque town graced by such athleticism in evening sunshine. Again the TV coverage was great. In the race Sweden won gold without making it close. Tove Alexandersson ran from the front, and established a lead on the first leg, with only Switzerland close (3rd was 38 seconds behind Simona Aebersold). And then, with the exception of a measured start on leg 2 by Emil Svensk matched with a very fast start from Joey Hadorn for Switzerland meaning they hit one control together, the Swedish runners ran alone. Gustav Bergman extended the lead on leg 3 and anchor leg Sarah Hagstrom had plenty of time to celebrate with her team on the run-in.
The close racing was everything else. A tremendously fast third leg by Kasper Fosser (34 secs quicker than any other man) gave the Norwegian final leg runner Andrine Benjaminsen sight of Elena Roos for Switzerland on the way to number 3. Together at the last control Benjaminsen did the fastest women's time of the day (by 7 seconds) to outsprint Roos deciding silver and bronze. Maja Alm took Denmark from 7th to 4th on the last leg. Megan had a close race with Teresa Janosikova (who is featured on the pre-Champs version of TheRunIn podcast.)
Great Britain, Alice Leake, Ralph Street, Peter Hodkinson and Megan Carter-Davies, were sixth. It's a new best place in this format for Alice and Megan. Ralph was in the team that was 6th in 2017. Peter was in the team that was 4th in 2016. Alice returns to Britain with diplomas for top-6 finishes from both Sprint and Sprint Relay.
That Sweden won by so much (in orienteering terms), and that Norway rather than Switzerland were second is a surprise to most watchers. There were perhaps a number of reasons.
In May Switzerland won the European Sprint Relay, on home soil, with every runner recording the fastest time on the leg. They were ahead all the way. It was like this relay but with Switzerland playing Sweden's part. (There is a very nice World of O report on the European Sprint Relay.)
Is home advantage a big factor in sprint racing? The European Champs race was in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. The World Champs are in Doksy, Czechia. They're really not that different in orienteering terms.
In all three teams, three of the four runners were the same as in May. Sweden had Tove Alexandersson rather than Lina Strand on leg 1. Bringing in the best woman orienteer strengthens the team. For the Swiss, swapping out Matthias Kyburz (who ran the day before) for Martin Hubmann (who didn't) is taking out one of the best male orienteers in the World but replacing him with a top notch sprint orienteer and highly experienced relay runner - should it make a big difference? And for Norway changing Eskil Kinneberg and Audun Heimdal is probably, on paper, fairly neutral.
What else might help explain? Who didn't run the day before? Not much difference - Gustav Bergman and Sarah Hagstrom didn't, but neither did Martin Hubmann nor Audun Heimdal.
Was it the style of gaffling? Or was it the way artificial barriers were used (in Neuchâtel they were used, but it was to set small areas of maze)?
Perhaps the barriers and gaffling made the race more technical? We note that what actually happened (check the GPS links below) between controls 5 and 7 was in general different from what the course preview video suggested.
Sprint Relay Course Preview Video - on Facebook, but can view without login.
Doksy is a small town in a municipality of about 5,000 in the Liberec Region. It is best known as a summer vacation resort for those keen on the outdoors, because of the special landscape. The town was established in the 13th century and soon after what is now known as "Mácha‘s Lake" (named for a Czech romantic poet) was dug. It was a spa town. The ruins of the Bezděz castle atop a big hill are visible for miles.
Doksy is also home to the famous comic heroes of the Čtyřlístek strip.
The start, photo: Petr Kadeřávek
Alice at the final control, photo: Fred Härtelt
Ralph reaches the final control, photo: Fred Härtelt
Ralph begins his run-in, photo: Christian Aebersold
Handover with few words, photo: Christian Aebersold
Peter on the run through / map turnover, photo: Fred Härtelt
Megan starts the final leg, photo: Christian Aebersold
Megan finishes for GBR, photo: Fred Härtelt
photo: Fred Härtelt