Long Final Report

Reflections on the Long Final

The Norwegian and Swedish flags were flying highest as the couple from Oslo – Bjornar Valstad and Hanne Staff claimed Gold and Silver. The loudest cheers were from the home crowd as Karolina Arewang Hojsgaard stormed to victory.

The biggest upset of the day, almost turned into the story of the day, as Simone Niggli Luder’s (Super Noodles) lost a contact lens around control 2. She fortunately was carrying a spare but this mishap cost her 3 mins 10 secs to fastest split of Minna Kauppi. Super Noodles was a lot of people’s favourite for the title, and this really did cause a stir with the crowd when announced. The impressive thing was how she recovered from 36th at that control to 4th at the finish. She was clearly the fastest runner in the women’s field and almost pulled off an amazing recovery. It wasn’t to be, as her increased speed meant she posted 4 fastest splits, but she was also making further small losses to her challengers.

Marika Mikkola caught Luder and was still leading through the spectator control at 19 but looked to be visibly tiring. So it proved as she missed the next control and Hojsgaard then led the race all the way to the finish. Queen Karo had been cruising steadily through the race. She then produced 3 fastest splits to take the advantage away from Hanne Staff. Gold went to Hojsgaard and Sweden and was reward for a finely judged race. Hojsgaard commented to the local paper Vestmanlands Lans Tidning. “ I still had good strength after the sprint races. I know that it is me that’s the strongest at the end of the Long Distance, and this gave me great confidence.”

In the men’s it was Bjornar Valstad who proved that age and experience could still keep the upper hand over the younger stars. He was in touch with the fast starting Russian Novikov right from the start. He lost a small amount of time to the Fin’s Ikonen and Haldin on the long legs, but was the most consistent throughout the race. Despite a small wobble on route to 23 he still had enough energy left to post 3 fastest splits in the remaining 6 legs to take a 32 sec victory from Long distance specialist Mattias Karlsson.

We managed to find time to chat to the GB team at Tea with the Team the following day.

For the Brits it had been a day of gutsy performances. Alison O’Neil had qualified well for the final and clearly enjoyed her first WOC final. She had a clean run but found the physical terrain very challenging. Recent and heavy overnight rain had left the marshes and forest floor very sodden and all commented how energy sapping it was. Although all had prepared for this and knew what to expect it certainly played into the hands of particularly the Scandinavians who are more used to the tougher going conditions.
Helen Winskill equally was happy with her run, if not totally with the result. She made a small route choice error on the way to the second control. Then was slightly cautious and also feeling the toughness of the conditions. But she is very inspired to improve for WOC 2005.

Heather produced the best GB female result and was very pleased with her run. She felt it was very clean and was in control although on reflection she did say the handbrake was on! She was surprised that her performance was not quite good enough for a top ten result.

The GB Men as predicted by yours truly all finished inside the top 20. Jamie Stevenson with the all time best GB result beating the previous best of Geoff Peck’s 11th in Czech in 1972! He was very happy with the performance and saw it as a huge stepping-stone on the way to further Long distance success. His only slight lapse in concentration was initially running out of control 3 without taking a drink as planned then returning to take one (costing in his estimation 30 secs) and not having a clear plan for the long leg and stumbling through a boulder field. It’s a difficult one to assess as taking the drink might have helped for latter in the course. So the time loss on this leg meant Emil Wingstedt caught him at control 4. They ran together with a slight wobble at 8 & 9 through to the butterfly loops where they had different combinations and didn’t see each other for nearly 30 mins as they took different routes on the long leg to 18. Jamie then led through to the spectator control and Emil from 23 to the finish. It clearly showed that two good runners can work together and the value of tactics with a two-minute start interval. For Emil it had been his plan to catch Jamie early.

For Stephen Palmer it was clearly worth the fine effort he had made to make the team, as he posted what he felt was his best WOC performance. His previous best 11 years ago in 1993 with 15th in USA. Equally Dan Marston with an early start produced another good Long distance result and was the first finisher and the honour of the first male interview of the day. Never one to waste his words, Dan said YES he was pleased with his run!

We had to believe Mark Saunders (snr) view that the conditions were as tough as everyone said as all the TNS team wimped out of running in the terrain and went home for a sleep. All the partying and nervous spectating had taken its toll!

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