Gold medals for Sweden and Norway in thrilling EOC relay

The difficult and dense terrain in Estonia had already created thrilling long and medium distances on previous days, and Sunday’s relays were no exception.

The Swedish women won by a huge margin and the Norwegian men defended their 2018 EOC gold medal.

Yesterday’s heavy rain cleared and the sun was shining as the 41 teams in the women’s category lined up for the start at 10.05am.

They got off to a spectacular start as two of the favorite teams, defending champions SUI 1 and NOR 1, lost time at early checks and ended up spending most of the stint catching up to the leading pack. FIN 1’s Miia Niittynen took advantage of a short fork at the end of Leg 1 and entered the exchange first with NOR 2 and DEN 1 hot on her heels.

But the three leading teams all lost time in the tough opening controls of Stage 2 and cleared the way for SWE 1 with CZE 1’s Sara Hagström and Adela Finstrlova to get through and create a decisive lead. Hagström remained calm throughout her leg and was a minute ahead of Finstrlova at the rally, with Finland 2 four minutes behind in third.

Tove Alexandersson then rode a perfect third leg for SWE 1 and extended the lead over CZE 1’s Tereza Janocikova to over five minutes at the finish line – winning the EOC relay with Lina Strand and Sara Hagström.

Janocikova raced her third leg on her own and kept her opponents behind to secure a silver medal – the first-ever EOC relay medal for Czech women – with Vendla Horcickova and Adela Finstrlova.

Behind them, SUI 1 and NOR 1 were back in business for the bronze medal fight. Saturday’s middle-distance champion Simona Aebersold appeared to create a crucial lead on her run, but a long fork and a small error near the end opened the gap for Andrine Benjaminsen to snatch bronze with her teammates Ane Dyrkorn and Marie Olaussen.

Nervous start
The men’s relay with 52 teams also got off to a nervous start, with Saturday’s middle distance champion Albin Ridefelt losing time at the first checks for SWE 1. However, SWE 2 with Henrik Johanneson had a great run and created a gap 20 seconds on NOR. 1, SWE 3 and LTU 1 at the first exchange.

Kasper Fosser quickly took the lead in NOR 1 and after racing close to SWE 2 and SWE 3 he edged them by a minute on the final loop before the trade. Florian Howald rode most of the stage alone and kept SUI 1 in fourth place and in contention for the medals.

Eskil Kinneberg, who was also part of Norway’s 2018 EOC Relay Gold Team, never looked back, avoided mistakes and widened Norway’s lead to the finish line to win with Magne Daehli and Kasper Fosser.

Behind Kinneberg, SWE 2 (Emil Svensk) and SWE 3 (Max Peter Bejmer) fought for the silver medal with Matthias Kyburz from SUI 1.

Bejmer took his own choice of route until the last control which turned out to be the fastest, securing silver for Sweden 3 and with Matthias Kyburz 10 seconds behind for Swiss bronze.

Watch Web-TV, GPS tracking and results on IOF LIVE.

The relays concluded the European Orienteering Championships and four exciting days of competition, with challenging terrain and great racing to follow.

The EOC also served as Round 2 of the World Cup – with Tove Alexandersson and Kasper Fosser now leading ahead of the World Cup final in Davos, Switzerland, October 1-3. Access the World Cup standings.

Photos: Donatas Lazauskas

Dino J. Dotson