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The dramatic and tense WOC relay

It all begun this morning, another cloudless and fine day was awaiting everyone in Bankut and the mountains surrounding the area. The light breeze helped just a little against the blazing rising sun. The tough forest was calling for the orienteers to come back. 38 men were first to step on the start line just an hour before midday. The tension was rising, the British team was ready to defend the title, the others to take revenge. The starting shot and they all flew out of the cosy arena into the wild Hungarian forest.

It’s hot, it’s tough…

The first leg was full of surprises with some favourite teams already falling behind and some other showing an incredible performance. Eight teams finished within half-a-minute with Russians taking the lead. Dmitry Tsvetkov changed to Valentin Novikov just 4 seconds ahead of the biggest surprise Pavel Gvozdev of Israel. Norway, France, Slovakia, Poland and few other teams just a few steps behind. Swedes 11th and the huge favourite Swiss almost 2 minutes behind in 16th place.

It was so tough the men had to walk up the steep hill just in front of the TV camera. The second leg brought some exciting changes and it was now France with Francois Gonon in the lead changing to non-other, but Thierry, who was definitely looking forward to this relay even more than anyone else. However, it was only a few meters or 6 seconds that separated Valentin of Russia from France. Then there was already a gap – Czech team was now in third almost a minute behind. Sweden with Peter Öberg breathing in the back when in the run-in and then another gap. Norway another minute behind and almost the whole 4 minutes behind Switzerland with Daniel Hubmann and Finland with Tero Föhr changing after the second leg. Thierry Gueorgiou vs. Andrey Khramov in the battle for the gold – so it seemed just before the thriller begun.

…it’s dangerous

Andrey Khramov managed to get away at first, but then made a mistake and was left behind by Thierry Gueorgiou, Anders Nordberg , Martin Johansson and Michal Smola. Now, Switzerland with Matthias Merz was running in the out-of-the-podium position chasing the leading ‘pack’ and being chased by Khramov. But then something misterious happened – the specators following the live GPS on their computer could witness the strange beahaviour of leading ‘pack’s GPS dots’ – they stopped. Bad reception? Got lost? No! Soon Nodberg’s dot started moving towards the road and the finish area. Something happened and it wasn’t a common mistake by four World’s leading orienteers. Martin Johansson of Sweden was in the lead the moment he got serious injury – a long dry branch into his leg. „Martin is a tough guy, but when he cries for help like that it does mean that something serious has happened” – told Thierry later on. All three – Thierry Guergiou, Anders Nordberg and Michal Smola – gave up their runs to help Martin. “Martin told us to continue at first, but we saw the dry stick that went  straight into the thigh and realized the seriousness of the situation” – says Anders Nordberg. Thierry immediately took off his shirt to bandage the heavy bleeding injury, while Anders spurted towards the finish area to seek for help. Michal Smola and Thierry Gueorgiou stayed with Martin and then carried him towards the nearest road…

Thierry Gueorgiou, Michal Smola, Anders Nordberg - WOC 2009 relay

The fight still goes on, for those who don’t know

Meanwhile Matthias Merz of Switzerland was taking another route-choice and didn’t see anything. He continued through the race and brought his team to the victory. They celebrated at first, but that moment they didn’t know what has happened. While ‘computer’ spectators followed the online GPS closely, the WOC speakers apparently did not and for quite a while they were sure that it was a huge mistake done by the leaders – until Anders Nordberg appeared in the arena coming for help. Andrey Khramov came in second. The fight for the bronze escalated between Finland with Mats Haldin and Latvia with Edgars Bertuks. Haldin proved to be stronger in the run-in and out spurted Bertuks. The home team Hungary finished in fifth just ahead of Poland.

Results Men
1. Switzerland (Baptiste Rollier, Daniel Hubmann, Matthias Merz)
2. Russia (Dmitry Tsvetkov,  Valentin Novikov, Andrey Khramov)
3. Finland (Topi Anjala, Tero Föhr, Mats Haldin)

Following the footsteps

Almost three hours passed since the men’s battle begun, when twenty five women headed into the Hungarian wilderness following their footsteps.  The first radio control brought another surprise with Chinese runner leading the relay. However, she couldn’t hold it for long and it was Karolina A. Höjsgard who got out of the forest first. Sweden was leading with 8 seconds ahead of Switzerland and half-a-minute ahead of Russia and Norway. Another ten seconds down and Czech Republic and Finland changed over to the second leg.

Kajsa Nilsson, Lea Mueller, Julia Novikova, Anne Margrethe Hausken, Eva Jurenikova and Merja Rantanen were now battling with each other and the Hungarian hills. Some other teams were still in battle, but not for long. Through half of the race Finnish runner took the lead by doing a great run. And when it was time to pass the relay to Minna Kauppi she was already in the lead by whole 50 seconds ahead of Switzerland. Sweden, Norway, Russia, Czech Republic within two minutes behind , but whole 7 minutes ahead of the next pursuers.

A keen battle

Six teams, six World class runners, only one gold. Minna Kauppi, Marianne Andersen, Helena Jansson, Dana Brožkova, Tatyana Riabkina and Simone Niggli. It was thrilling, face to face on a tough and challenging course. The one who stays cool through the whole race and doesn’t miss – takes it all. They all missed though. Minna Kauppi was very soon caught by Simone Niggli. Helena Jansson was running extremely fast and was closing the gap steadily. Dana and Tatyana weren’t far away too. However, Marianne Andersen was doing even better and soon they all got together. Well, not all in the eyesight, but very close and… missed the same control number five. While Helena, Marianne, Dana and Minna recovered more or less quickly, Simone was left behind alone still looking for the fifth control with Tatyana just behind. Soon also Simone could start up the hill towards the sixth. Tatyana was still searching (she didn’t start in any of the individual races this year as she has decided to take a rest this year, however she was specially called to the national team for this relay).

After some more mistakes two runners emerged in a clear lead, Marianne and Helena. Minna was now two minutes behind with Simone and Dana another 1 down. The finish line was unavoidably getting closer, or the runners were getting closer to it, it doesn’t matter, the gold medal was within a hand’s reach. Finally we could see a masterpiece of orienteering and the victorious finish of the girl, who has until now shined with 6 silver medals and not even a glitter of gold. She did, she finally got her first gold medal at the World championships – Marianne Andersen in a close battle brought Norway to victory! “I felt I was alone and was hoping to be in the lead, but I wasn’t sure. Then I got confused and missed the third last control and Helena came… I am still not sure how it feels to win, but I am definitely very, very happy!” – said Marianne after the finish. The silver shine this time went to Sweden. “It feels a bit like we have lost the gold, although I know that we have won silver. Towards the end of the race I was just fighting and hoping that Marianne would miss, what she did, but I didn’t have that extra energy to take it today” – said Helena. Minna and the Finnish team ran into bronze. Simone finished in fourth less than a minute behind with Dana in fifth just a few seconds behind. And that was it!

Norwegian women celebrate victory

Results Women
1. Norway (Betty Ann Bjerkreim Nilsen, Anne Margrethe Hausken, Marianne Andersen)
2. Sweden (Karolina A.Höjsgaard, Kajsa Nilsson, Helena Jansson)
3. Finland (Bodil Holmström, Meria Rantanen, Minna Kauppi)

The tribute

The medals for the men relay were awarded in hands of the athletes instead of being hung on the neck. „Fair play – we have seen the ultimate expression of it today. 3 athletes sacrificed their own runs and medal possibilities for their nations by attending to an injured fellow competitor. We must acknowledge this supreme example of sportsmanship. We express our sincere gratitude. Martin Johansson is in the circumstances well and will hopefully recover soon” – were the words of the president of the international orienteering federation Åke Jakobson just before the prize-giving ceremony. The statement was followed by prolonged applause for Michal Smola, Anders Nordberg and Thierry Gueorgiou. Martin Johansson is reported to be in good condition in hospital, where he will have to stay for a few days to recover.

Sources: SOFT

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