World Orienteering Championships - Fair play and sportsmanship to the fore in the relay.

Saturday 22 August 2009, 11:22PM
By NZ Orienteering Federation

A dramatic turn of events at the World Championships Relay in Hungary saw the leading orienteers sacrificing their chances of a gold medal as they instinctively rushed to the aid of a fallen comrade.

Swede Martin Johansson was leading the last leg of the relay, chased by Frenchmen Thierry Gueorgiou, Norwegian Anders Nordberg and Michal Smola of the Czech Republic.

At this stage of the three-man relay - on the last leg - the very best runners from each country are focused on running as fast as possible through the rough terrain, sparing a glance at the map as little as possible.

And, for the leader Johansson, a moments inattention was all it took for him to impale his thigh on a long branch.

Spectators at the finish arena could only guess at what was happening as the GPS markers of the leaders seemed to drop out of the race, with one heading off course.

Commentators at the arena were suggesting that a huge navigational blunder had been made by the worlds best orienteers.

It was Anders Nordberg who ran directly to the finish while World Champion Gueorgiou used his shirt to stem the bleeding on the 10 cm deep wound, and then with Smola, carry Johanssen towards the nearest road.

All this in spite of being urged by the injured Swede to continue their race.

Chasing orienteer Mathias Merz, who took a different route choice and missed the drama, then finished to bring the Swiss team to victory.

Celebrations were curtailed as spectators and competitors wondered what had happened - until Nordberg appeared seeking assistance.

For New Zealander Chris Forne who had moved the team up into 19th place on the last leg, there was no sign of any drama until the three rescuers jogged to the finish behind the Kiwis in 25th place.

International Orienteering Federation President Åke Jacobson spoke prior to the prizegiving - "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”.

And, for multiple World Champion over the Sprint and Middle distances Thierry Gueorgiou, it was another case of the 'one that got away' - the relay gold.

It was Gueorgiou who led last years Championships relay in a seemingly unloseable position before he swallowed a bee and needed to be evacuated in anaphylactic shock.

After a tough year the Frenchman is back, with gold in the Middle and looking for another in the Long distance on Sunday after qualifying fastest in his heat.

New Zealand's hopes in the Long distance rest with the stronger than ever Chris Forne (Christchurch) who has not only qualified for all three finals but posted a New Zealand World Championships best for the men of 20th place, in the Sprint.

A close battle between the top six womens' teams saw Norway take gold ahead of Sweden and Finland.

Results World Orienteering Championships Relay
1. Switzerland (Baptiste Rollier, Daniel Hubmann, Matthias Merz)
2. Russia (Dmitry Tsvetkov,  Valentin Novikov, Andrey Khramov)
3. Finland (Topi Anjala, Tero Föhr, Mats Haldin)
19. New Zealand (Greg Flynn, Ross Morrison, Chris Forne)

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)