Denmark claim first women’s Relay gold, Switzerland take men’s title
A pair of silver medals for Norway
The Danish team of Maja Møller Alm, Ida Bobach and Emma Klingenberg dominated from start to finish today to claim Denmark's first women's Relay title. There was a thrilling battle for the other medals, with Norway taking silver just ahead of Sweden, who took bronze.
In the men's Relay a strong Swiss team of Fabian Hertner, Daniel Hubmann and Matthias Kyburz led throughout to take gold. Again the other medal positions were closely fought, with Magne Dæhli running a superb last lap to take Norway's second silver medal of the day, while a young French team – running without Thierry Gueorgiou for the first time since 1995 – claimed bronze. The British men ran well to finish fourth in front of a vocal home crowd.
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Denmark dominant again
On another day of thrilling racing at Darnaway, the Danish women dominated their Relay from start to finish to claim a well-deserved gold medal – Denmark's first ever women's Relay title. This is the third gold medal of this World Championships for the Danes, after their Sprint Relay triumph and Maja Møller Alm's individual Sprint gold.
Alm was on impressive form again today, leading from the start of the first lap and never looking back. While many of the favourites made mistakes in the complex area of six-way gaffling through which each competitor passed twice, Alm kept her head and, despite a small wobble on her third control, sailed around the rest of the course to bring Denmark home with more than a one-minute lead over their nearest rivals.
Many of those rivals made more sizeable errors or hesitations. Heidi Østlid Bagstevold, running first lap for Norway, was one of many runners to lose time through mistakes in the gaffled area, before she got into more serious issues with an unusual route to control 18.
Natalia Vinogradova brought Russia back in second place at the end of the first lap, just over a minute down on Denmark, with a pack of Switzerland, Hungary, Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic about another minute back. After Bagstevold's mistakes the Norwegians were further behind still, almost three-and-a-half minutes down on the Danish lead.
Ida Bobach, who finished fourth in yesterday's Middle, then produced a phenomenal run on lap two for Denmark, taking Alm's one-minute lead and calmly extending it to over four minutes while chaos unfolded in the chasing pack behind her, with almost every runner making at least one significant mistake.
Svetlana Mironova, running lap two for Russia, lost a little time on her first pass through the complex gaffled area, through a combination of hesitation and having a longer variation, to be caught by the Swedish and Czech runners. Meanwhile, Judith Wyder of Switzerland, who missed the Sprint Final through injury, lost some time after apparently being lured into running with the Swedish and Czech runners despite actually having a different gaffle.
The Russian, Swedish, Finnish, Czech and Swiss runners all arrived at control 9 at about the same time, before the next leg to control 10 caught out a lot of the leading runners, with Wyder for Switzerland and yesterday's champion Annika Billstam of Sweden trying to go straight and drifting right, while Mari Fasting for Norway and the Middle silver medallist Merja Rantanen of Finland took the track route and then drifted left.
The runners then headed back for their second pass through the area of complex gaffling, and again several lost time, with Adela Indrakova of the Czech Republic losing time to Billstam on the same gaffle through route choice, while Wyder again made navigational errors.
Mironova had a relatively fast gaffle this time around, and she executed it well to re-establish Russia in second place, 47 seconds ahead of third-placed Sweden at the end of lap two, but over four minutes behind the Danish lead. A small pack of the Norwegian, Finnish and Swiss runners were between 16 and 20 seconds further behind.
Although Bobach's great run meant that Klingenberg went out on the final lap for Denmark with a near-unassailable lead, the other medals were still all to play for, and the race for silver and bronze on lap three went down to the wire.
The smallest of hesitations from Tatyana Riabkina of Russia – stopping one hill too early – allowed Minna Kauppi of Finland to catch her on their first pass through the complex area, and the Swiss, Russian, Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian runners were neck-and-neck through the common controls 9 to 11.
Sara Lüscher of Switzerland lost time in the complex area on her second visit, partly through having one of the longer variations, and dropped off the back of the pack. Meanwhile, Middle bronze medallist Emma Johansson of Sweden recovered well from initially finding herself at the wrong control to emerge level with Kauppi and only a few seconds behind Riabkina and Norway's Anne Margrethe Hausken Nordberg.
By control 17 of lap three only nine seconds separated Norway, Finland, Russia and Sweden, with only the ungaffled, head-to-head section of the course remaining. However, an usual choice of route from Riabkina on the long leg south from control 17 to 18 saw the Russian lose time to the other three, and left the battle for the silver and bronze medals as an out-and-out sprint between Johansson, Kauppi and Hausken Nordberg.
Ultimately, it was Hausken Nordberg who had the speed to secure silver for Norway, powering away to finish nine seconds ahead of Johansson, with Kauppi a further 24 seconds behind. Unforunately Riabkina, who would otherwise have brought Russia back in fifth, was disqualified after failing to register at the final control.
Away from all this drama, Emma Klingenberg cruised around at the front of the race to claim a comprehensive victory for Denmark, losing about a minute to the chasing pack with a few small errors but never in any serious danger of being caught.
This was an impressive all-round performance from a young Danish team – Alm is 27, Bobach 24 and Klingenberg 23 – on an area that played to their strengths, with Alm and Bobach both remarking that the terrain today was not too different to that which they are used to racing in in Denmark. Klingenberg summed up the mood in the Danish camp:
It's perfect! While I was out there I couldn't believe I was running for a gold medal. I'm so happy for my teammates.
Swiss men triumphant
While their win was not quite as comprehensive as the Danish women's, the Swiss put in a similarly commanding performance to take the men's Relay title, leading from the front throughout the race.
The nearest anyone got to challenging their lead was the pressure that Yannick Michiels of Belgium and Andrey Salin of Belarus applied to Fabian Hertner throughout lap one, but another dominant performance from yesterday's Middle champion Daniel Hubmann soon shook off the competition to finish lap two with a 94-second lead, which Fabian Hertner extended on lap three without ever really looking in danger of being challenged.
Like the women's course, the men's had a complicated gaffling system with each runner passing twice through the trickiest area, and as in the women's race there were big mistakes from some of the favourites in this area early on. Norway finished lap one already over 100 seconds down on the Swiss lead, Øystein Kvaal Østerbø – like many others – having lost time being lured towards a control on a different gaffle.
The Russian and Swedish teams also finished surprisingly far behind the Swiss lead on lap one, with Andrey Kozyrev and Sprint champion Jonas Leandersson making a large mistake while running together through the first section of complicated gaffling.
Yannick Michiels of Belgium, who narrowly missed out on a Sprint medal, had an excellent run on first lap, keeping the pressure on Hertner until the long leg south to control 20, where Michiels took a bold and unconventional route choice along the road that perhaps played to his strength as a runner but which ultimately cost him time on Hertner. (Stefan Ringer, running lap two for Slovakia, was the only other athlete to go this way.)
On lap two, while Hubmann consolidated the Swiss lead with his second highly-impressive run in as many days, an intriguing battle was developing for the other medal places. Great Britain's Graham Gristwood and France's Lucas Basset gradually pulled away from the rest of the pack in second and third, while Norway's Carl Godager Kaas ran well to make up places from the 12th he had started in.
Gristwood opened up a lead over Basset towards the end of his run to finish lap two in second position, to a resounding roar from the home crowd. Hubmann was 94 seconds ahead and Basset 19 seconds behind, with Godager Kaas a futher 30 seconds back.
This set up a tense third and final lap, with Great Britain's Ralph Street up against Frédéric Tranchand of France and Magne Dæhli of Norway. Dæhli ran a superb race, taking advantage of small hesitations by the other two to close the gap first on Street and then on Tranchand.
All three came through control 20 within seven seconds of each other, but Tranchand and Dæhli ultimately proved too strong for Street, opening up a gap on the long leg through the marsh to control 21, with Street losing a few additional seconds with a slight deviation on the approach to the control circle.
The battle for silver and bronze then came down to Tranchand and Dæhli, and it seems as if the deciding factor may have been a slight miss by Tranchand at control 22 which allowed Dæhli to get away from him and secure silver for Norway by 22 seconds. (Unfortunately, this segment of GPS track is missing for Dæhli, so we haven't been able to confirm whether it was only Tranchand who made this mistake.)
This was Norway's second silver medal of the day, and together with their second place at the Sprint Relay on Saturday it means that they have won silver in all of the team races at this World Championships.
The French performance was also impressive, the more so because it was the first time since the 1995 World Championships that the French Relay team hadn't featured superstar Theirry Gueorgiou.
But the men's title rightly belonged to the Swiss, a delighted Kyburz summing it up by saying:
It was incredible. Even though I went out with such a big lead, I was really nervous at the start, so I was always thinking "we have to do it", and we did it!
The World Championships concludes on Friday with what promises to be a phyically and mentally challenging Long race through the beautiful and remote Highland wilderness of Glen Affric.
Maja Møller Alm
Øystein Kvaal Østerbø
Carl Godager Kaas
Heidi Østlid Bagstevold
Anne Margrethe Hausken Nordberg