Billstam Retains Her Title, Hubmann Completes His Set
Middle Distance Report
Navigational errors from many top runners in the difficult Darnaway terrain
On a day when many of the favourites made mistakes among the tricky moraine of Darnaway, reigning world champion Annika Billstam ran a superb race to retain her Middle title in style. Merja Rantanen of Finland was second and Emma Johansson, also of Sweden, was third.
The men's race was incredibly close, with just 46 seconds separating the top seven runners. Daniel Hubmann of Switzerland was triumphant, collecting a Middle gold medal to go with the Sprint, Long and Relay golds he has won in the past. There was a surprise silver medal for France's Lucas Basset, who ran an excellent race to finish only three seconds behind the winner, with Olle Boström of Sweden taking the bronze.
Steady performance brings gold for Billstam
Many athletes remarked that they found today's courses more difficult than they had expected, both physically and technically. Nobody had a perfect race, but Annika Billstam came closest: she lost 25 seconds to Emma Johansson by choosing a lower route to the first control, but that was the biggest mistake she make all day, and although she was the fastest runner on only three on the 22 legs, her steady performance when others were making big errors was enough to bring her victory by 50 seconds.
Billstam's performance was so impressive that she caught and overtook several of the runners who started ahead of her: she was running with Norway's Mari Fasting most of the way from control 12 to the finish, and at one point her pack also included Ida Bobach of Denmark and Saila Kinni of Finland, both of whom dropped back through the tough, phyical terrain around controls 15 and 16.
Billstam indicated that catching the other runners had encouraged her to maintain her speed through the latter part of the course, saying:
I was very nervous before the start. The course was very challenging at the beginning and faster towards the end, particularly because I had caught up a lot of fast runners.
Billstam's Swedish teammate Johansson had looked as if she were on course for the gold and was leading three controls from the end, but lost over ninety seconds with a surprising error on the penultimate control and ended up with bronze.
Johansson described her mistake, saying:
I had a fantastic race until that control, where I got stuck in a really green area, so I'm a little disappointed.
Merja Rantanen of Finland, who claimed silver with an otherwise steady run, lost around 25 seconds on the same control, although even without that error she wouldn't have beaten Billstam.
Several of the pre-race favourites made big mistakes that cost them a chance of a medal. Ida Bobach, who finished in fourth position, was one of the fastest runners on the course, but undid her good work with several sizeable errors, the worst of which cost her over two minutes on control 4.
Helena Jansson of Sweden, who was many people's top tip for gold, never really recovered from losing almost two minutes through the first three controls, while Finland's Minna Kauppi made several major mistakes including losing well over three minutes on control 8.
Great Britain's Cat Taylor finished in fifth place, to the delight of the home crowd, recovering very well after an error on the second control.
Acknowledging her error, Taylor said:
The course was a lot trickier than I was expecting, and I had to push hard. Overall, I'm satisfied with my performance.
Hubmann edges close race
While Billstam won the women's race by a seemingly comfortable 50 seconds, in the men's race things were much closer, with only 46 seconds between first and seventh. Any of those seven athletes could have won medals, but it was Hubmann who took gold with a good technical race.
Like Billstam, Hubmann was fastest on very few individual legs, but it was his ability to keep his head when navigating through the technically-demanding terrain that finally won him a Middle title to go with his previous gold medals in Sprint, Long and Relay. Hubmann's largest mistake was drifting slightly left on the line on control 13, which cost him 18 seconds on Gueorgiou; otherwise, his performance was near perfect, and certainly free of the big mistakes that afflicted many others.
Despite his seemingly near-perfect run compared to his rivals, Hubmann wasn't entirely satisfied and felt he could have improved on some of his routes, saying:
I was in control during the race, and felt good. Now I'm not sure about some of my route choices – I might have lost some time on them. Overall, though, I'm happy.
The young Frenchman Lucas Basset was a surprise silver medallist, and like Hubmann he also ran a technically excellent race with only the smallest of wobbles and hesitations to finish a mere three seconds down on the Swiss champion. Basset said:
The race was very technical. I was quite tired at the beginning but then started running very fast.
Olle Boström of Sweden put in a similarly steady run, finishing a further ten seconds behind Basset to take bronze and claim Sweden's third medal of the day.
France's Thierry Gueorgiou ran well for most of the race, and at times looked as if he might be on course for his eighth world Middle title, but two mistakes cost him dearly. The first came on the way to control 18, where he drifted to the right of the line taken by his closest rivals and seemed to get briefly stuck in some thick vegetation, costing him around 20 seconds.
His second, more surprising error, came on the apparently straightforward control 24 – the same control which cost Emma Johansson the women's title – where he lost around 40 seconds to ultimately finish seventh, only 46 seconds behind Hubmann's winning time.
Hubmann's Swiss teammate Fabian Hertner was the fastest through the early part of the course, before a slight miss on control 9 cost him around 35 seconds that he wasn't able to make back. He finished in fifth, behind Magne Dæhli of Norway and ahead of Ukraine's Oleksandr Kratov.
Matthias Kyburz, another Swiss runner who had been on good form going into this race, ran well at times, but finished in a disappointing 40th position after making some significant errors, the worst of which was over two-and-a-half minutes on control 13.
Given the number and size of the errors made by top runners today, tomorrow's Relay, also at Darnaway, promises to be difficult to predict – and fascinating to watch!