Chloe Potter, first leg for South Yorkshire "Killer Bees" team, British Sprint Relays 2023, Brunel University London, photo: Rob Lines
There have been two important sprint format competitions in the UK this September. One was the gathering of top domestic and international runners for Sprint Scotland on the first weekend, and the other was a British Championships two weeks later. In between a 14-runner GB team for next month's sprint formats European Champs was announced.
On The Red Line were trusted with an arena commentary for the British Sprint Relays which we hope was well received. We were able to laud most of the 27 teams entered (see below) and help spectators identify the club colours and runners. To illustrate the intensity of the racing we noted that the faster teams are ticking off controls at the rate of two per minute.
See our previous piece "Early Autumn" for the programme of the Sprint Scotland weekend.
Typically national knockout sprints have qualification races followed by semi-finals and finals (without the quarter-final round that World Cup and World Champs races include) and this is what Sprint Scotland did. So the first 18 runners qualified for the knockout stages. This certainly created some jeopardy for potential finalists in the men's field, but less so for the women's.
In the men's, Yannick Michiels was first in the qualification race in just under 9 minutes, and it was 42 seconds down to 18th from 2nd= Nathan Lawson and Eddie Narbett. Henry McNulty - who won the day 2 individual sprint and Chris Smithard were outside the cut. There were four non-GB runners in the top-10. In the women's it was 87 seconds down to 18th from 2nd - the race being headed by Cecilie Andersen in 8:41 and Rachel Brown in 8:42. Just the wrong side of the cutoff here were Ying Yau Chu of Hong Kong China and Vilija Gvildiene of Lithuania.
The semi-final setups were done in a pre-announced manner based on positions in the qualification races.
In Men's SF1 Yannick Michiels (Belgium) and Ralph Street won through (putting out Jim Bailey). In SF2 Cornelius Bjork (Norway, 6th in their national champs two weeks later) and Nathan Lawson came through (putting out Jonathan Crickmore, Will Gardner and Peter Molloy.) And in SF3, Eddie Narbett and Otto Kaario (Finland, 5th in their national champs a week later) came through (putting out Peter Hodkinson and Freddie Carcas).
In the men's final Yannick was quickest but ran past a control (an unfortunate but all too common feature of sprint orienteering at the moment it seems) leaving Nathan Lawson to take the win ahead of Ralph Street and Eddie Narbett.
In the women's Laura Robertson (New Zealand), Cecilie Andersen, Rachel Brown, Anna Nilsson Simkovics (Austria), Jo Shepherd and Laura King made the final. Cecilie Andersen won this, from Rachel Brown and Jo Shepherd.
The full international format has four races: qualification, quarters, semis and final. It is hard on athletes (and organisers.)
The typical national format has three races: qualification, semis and final. It is easier, and different. It can be difficult if a medium runner ends up with two strong runners in their semi, meaning they may not get so much from gaining qualification compared to the international format - three go through from six is somewhat different . Ralph's comments in his blog on his semi "Sat on Yannick and followed along...we were comfortable in the end." Of course it's all good for the audience.
Maybe sometime there'll be a trial of 24 from qualification going to four quarters and two semis?
In the men's again Yannick Michiels was quickest and ran past a control. The top six were Henry McNulty (Australia), Nathan Lawson, Otto Kaario, Peter Molloy, Jim Bailey, and Peter Hodkinson.
In the women's the top six was Laura Robertson, Cecilie Andersen, Rachel Brown, Kirstin Maxwell, Helen Bridle, and Cho Yu Lam (Hong Kong China.)
We don't know who said they were available for Italy, but we do know some are happy to enjoy their orienteering without joining the national team at all competitions. (As British team athletes typically work full-time and pay travel and accommodation, many have to be selective.)
Megan Carter-Davies (ranked 3rd in the World) and Charlotte Ward (ranked 14th in the World) have done little running recently and are both selected subject to fitness. (Laura King is named as reserve.) Cecilie Andersen and Rachel Brown both in the GB team for World Cup Round 2 and both running well at Sprint Scotland, join them..
Kirstin Maxwell does a lot of non-orienteering running, setting a 5K PB last year. She has run the European Champs before, but this is her first international since COVID.
Marie Eades, at the JK Sprint 2023, photo: Wendy Carlyle
Names not on the teamsheet include Alice Leake bronze medallist in last year's World Champs (and still ranked 11th in the World) who has retired from internationals, Grace Molloy who is at University in America, and Chloe Potter, who ran at World Cup Round 2, but didn't run Sprint Scotland.
Megan has a personal place for the classic sprint so all seven could run that.
Names not on the teamsheet include Kris Jones, who has been tackling the longest races of his life this year, including coming 8th in the World Mountain & Trail Running "Short Trail Race" - he took four and a half hours, finishing just ahead of Frederic Tranchand. Some will remember that it was Frederic who outran Ralph Street for the bronze position in the Men's Relay at the World Champs in Scotland in 2015..
The other notable omission is Chris Smithard - he is named as reserve - who was in the team for World Cup Round 2 and is ranked 47th in the World.
Peter Hodkinson returns from a long injury which ended his 2022 season almost before it began. Eddie Narbett makes his senior debut. Like Freddie Carcas, Eddie Narbett is a young runner who has been at University in America and has little UK racing since COVID.
Freddie Carcas at World Cup Round 2, by Rob Lines
International Sprint Relays at the World Champs began in 2014 in Italy, where GB came 6th. Three more podium (top-6) but not medal positions followed in 2016 (Sweden), 2017 (Estonia) and 2021 (Czechia), and then last year, in the 7th running at a World Champs, in Kolding in Denmark, GB won the silver medal. It was a dramatic race. The whole live broadcast of the WOC 2022 Sprint Relay can be re-watched.
Domestically, South Yorkshire staged a trial race in 2016, using a 4-leg 2-runner format, won by Graham Gristwood and Fanni Gyurko of Forth Valley. Unofficial (though they were called and regarded by runners as the British Champs) 4-runner races to the international format of WMMW followed in 2017 (Deeside Orienteers) and 2018 (Newcastle and Tyneside Orienteers.) Forth Valley won both these races too, with Chris Smithard being the only face in both winning teams.
The first official champs were in 2019, hosted by Airienteers at Bradford University. as part of a big weekend of British Championships. These were won by Edinburgh University. Forth Valley were second and Bristol third. There was no race in 2020 because of COVID. In 2021 Deeside again staged the race, this time in Skelmersdale and South Yorkshire won by nine minutes, with.Lakeland second and Humberside & Lincolnshire third. Last year Airienteers again hosted, this time at Leeds Beckett University. Forth Valley won, with Edinburgh University second and South Yorkshire third. It was close - the first three teams were spread over barely a minute.(Actually it wasn't the first three teams, there was a New Zealand International team ahead of all the UK club teams, as they prepared for the World Champs.)
It was Sunday 17th September, the day after the London City Race, an urban race with mearly 1000 runers from 23 countries, which this year was part of the EuroCity Tour.
The relays were organised by London OK, and the full results and routegadget are available on the London OK homepage. The organiser was Neil Brooks, the planning by Julie and Ronan Cleary, and the Controller was Trevor Hoey of Forth Valley, a Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University.
On the day there is a WMMW race, which is what we commented on and which is called the elite class, rather to the amusement of many of those joining their club team(s) for the day. Later in the morning there are a range of three-runner at least one woman, races, in age classes (young junior, junior, vet, super-vet, ultra-vet) and a very large ad-hoc class.
With South Yorkshire having both the previous day's elite course winners (Chloe Potter, Jonathan Crickmore), second on Women's Elite (Laura Robertson) and sixth on Men's Elite (James Mellor) in their first relay team we had them as clear favourites, and the possibility of a win as comfortable as in 2021.
There was no Edinburgh University team, and no teams from either of Deeside or Airienteers who had both done a lot to sustain the competition. What there was was a 27-team entry, more than ever before, maybe suggesting it is becoming seen as a good race to take part in and enjoy a day out with clubmates. Some of the teams were non-comp (DRONGO the Cambridge University Alumni club, Wessex, and Norfolk). There was an international team from the TROL club in Belgium.
Forth Valley were there, with two internationals and two junior women, and they had a second team too as did South Yorkshire. Octavian Droobers, men's relay champions in the forest. were entered but it turned out their final leg was the Australian Nea Shingler and so the team was non-comp. Southern Navigators were there, like Forth Valley, with two good younger juniors (and they had a second team too.) Bristol were running, the question there being could legs 1 and 2 give Adam Potter and Cecilie Andersen on legs 3 and 4 a competitive position. And we picked out Sheffield University as an outside contender for the podium, the only Uni club running and a bit of an unknown quantity..
Clubs who have regularly run teams with modest hopes in the relay were there. We noted four. There was CLARO, punching above their size, they were 4th in 2021 and 7th last year. Pendle Forest, again a smaller club who seem to have taken a fancy to this race coming twelfth in 2022, Manchester & District, and South London, hosts of the City Race the previous day, who had three teams in the relay.
There were teams from the Army and the RAF.
And there were teams from the south-east and south-central associations likely encouraged by the quality venue with a reasonable roundtrip for the day: Southdowns, Mole Valley, Happy Herts, Thames Valley and two teams from Berkshire.
Of the 14 selected for the GB team in next month's Europeans the crowd could see (and cheer) Jonathan Crickmore, Peter Molloy and Cecilie Andersen.
South Yorkshire Leg 4 Laura Robertson is joined by her teammates on the run-in, photo: Rob Lines
South Yorkshire didn't mispunch and ran out in 51:31 with a margin of 4 minutes ahead of Bristol, with Forth Valley third. But eight teams did mispunch: the challenge was far from plain sailing for most..
After two legs it was Octavian Droobers who led, with Kirsten Strain and Duncan Birtwistle running well. Kirsten was the poster girl for the Scottish Association who won the recent 2023 Senior Home International by the narrowest of margins. Duncan ran the second fastest time of the day (Jonathan Crickmore did the fastest.)
On the last leg Laura Robertson stretched South Yorkshire's lead for a four minute margin over Bristol with Ceclilie Andersen. Cecilie overtook Forth Valley, but Rebecca Hammond comfortably hung on to third for last year's champions. Sheffield University were fourth, Berkshire fifth, and Manchester sixth.
Rob Lines was on fine from with his camera and we reproduce some of the pictures below.
Chloe Potter represents the winning South Yorkshire team at the prizegiving, with Bristol second and Forth Valley third, photo: Rob Lines
The South London Leg 1 runners, photo: Rob Lines
The Start, photo : Rob Lines
Kirsten Strain (Octavian Droobers) and Lois Parker (CLARO) together near the end of leg 1, photo: Rob Lines
Forth Valley Leg 2
One of the biggest cheers was for former senior internatiional Sarah Rollins, Southern Navigators Leg 4, who had taken over from her son Tommy. We guess some of those cheering will recognise Sarah's 2022 more for her BOF webinar on strength and conditioning than her gold, silver and bronze at the year's World Masters.
Southern Navigators Leg 4