The 2016 World Trail Orienteering Championships: back to Sweden

Posted on | August 18, 2016 | Category: WOC news

Having gone full circle as it were, the World Trail Orienteering Championships (WTOC) return this year to Sweden, where the very first edition took place. Twelve years ago, Västerås provided the scene for the first great moment of the young Orienteering discipline, bringing together 52 athletes from 17 different countries. Today, Strömstad is ready to host 113 athletes competing under the colours of 22 nations.

WTOC 2016 is about to start, but from the first edition in Västerås in 2004 to the event just ahead of us in Strömstad, much has happened. Above all, Trail Orienteering has consolidated into a discipline with fully established rules and very sound practices, thanks to the unswerving work of those responsible. As a result of these developments, TrailO is now more attractive because it is more competitive, and more people are taking part in TrailO because it is fairer. In this evolutionary process Strömstad will always be a reference, since here the TrailO Relay format comes in for the first time in the history of the Championships. But also because here, another country will make its debut in the competition. The debut of a country that is in fact also the debut of a whole continent. A continent called Africa and a country called Egypt!

A new competition: the TrailO Relay
Replacing the Team Competition – which had Ukraine as its final champion in WTOC 2015 (Zagreb, Croatia) – the TrailO Relay will close the competitive programme of this year’s Championships. 17 teams will go face-to-face in the Open class and 9 teams in the Paralympic class. Italy, current European Relay Champion country, is the big favourite in the Open Class, but will be facing strong opposition from the Nordic teams – Norway, Sweden and Finland – in addition to Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Latvia and Portugal. In the Paralympic Class Sweden emerges as the big favourite, but up against strong challenges from the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Russian teams.

The first day in the competition programme is the TempO event – with the qualifying series taking place in the morning and the final in the afternoon. It promises great excitement, with huge uncertainty regarding the winner. Because of their history and what they have already achieved this season, the Finn Antti Rusanen and the Norwegian Martin Jullum seem the closest athletes to the gold. But the truth is that surprises come when you least expect them, and evidence of this is the victory of the Czech Pavel Kurfürst in the European Championships in Jesenik, Czech Republic, last May. Other names to consider regarding the medals are the Slovak Ján Furucz, the Hungarian Zoltán Mihaczi, the Finn Pinja Mäkinen, the Swede Marit Wiksell, the Portuguese Inês Domingues and the Italians Remo Madella and Michael Cera.

An exciting PreO competition
Michele Cera will be the centre of attention in the PreO competition, in which he will be defending his world title in the Open Class. His recent eighth place in the European Championships is misleading, and everyone knows that it won’t be easy to beat Cera’s huge talent and nerves of steel. Well prepared to do it are the Swede Stig Gerdtman, European Champion currently and World Champion twice, in 2010 and 2012. Also the World Champion in 2014, the Latvian Guntars Mankus, is a strong candidate for a medal, along with the Norwegians Martin Jullum and Lars Jakob Waaler, the Croatian Zdenko Horjan, the Finn Martti Inkinen, the Swede Martin Fredholm and the Ukrainian Vitaliy Kyrychenko. In a second line arise names such as the German Anne Straube, the Italian Remo Madella, the Norwegian Sigurd Dæhli, the Slovenian Kreso Kerestes, the Swedes Lennart Wahlgren and Marit Wiksell, the Lithuanian Robertas Stankevic and the Portuguese João Pedro Valente.

As for the Paralympic class, the favourite is, still and always, the Swede Ola Jansson, triple world champion (2004, 2010 and 2012) and earlier this year crowned European Champion. The Ukrainian Vladislav Vovk will be his biggest opponent, coming to Strömstad to defend the world title he achieved in Zagreb. Among the remaining 36 Paralympic athletes, there are a few able to challenge the ‘favourite’ tag of the two mentioned above and reach a medal. In the first row are, of course, the Swede Michael Johansson, World Champion in 2014, and the Czech Jana Kostova, World Champion in 2013. With a number of outstanding results in recent years, and so also candidates for the seats of honour, come the Czechs Pavel Dudik and Bohuslav Hulka, the Dane Søren Saxtorph, the Russian Dmitriy Dokuchaev, the Finn Pekka Seppa and the Lithuanian Laima Lazinskiene.

Egypt’s debut
Sweden is the country with the highest representation in WTOC 2016, with six athletes in the Open Class and four in the Paralympic Class. Finland, with nine athletes, and Italy, Japan, Latvia and Ukraine, with seven athletes each, follow Sweden in the list of the most represented. The Swede Martin Fredholm and the Norwegian Lars Jakob Waaler feature yet again on TrailO’s big stage, selected for the 13th time in as many editions of the event, the only two to have achieved this. With Tamer Mehanna in the Open Class and Ahmed Shaaban in the Paralympic class, Egypt participates for the first time in the competition, increasing to thirty-four the number of countries that have participated in the WTOC so far. But this is a historic debut for a second reason, since Egypt is the first African country to participate in the competition. After three years of absence the Netherlands is back, represented again by Mark Heikoop, who achieved a brilliant 6th place in 2012 in the championships held in Dundee, Scotland.

As in 2015, the Dane Johanne Biering and the US David Irving provide the extremes in age range, she 15 years old, he 77. The younger block also includes the Dane Karoline Saxtorph Schulz (15 years old) and the Spaniard Jorge Valente Barrera (16), both making their first appearance in the competition. Towards the other extreme there is the North American Sharon Crawford, who at the age of 72 is participating in her 9th WTOC in a row. Also Inga Gunnarsson, Sweden is a WTOC veteran on several accounts, completing at the age of 69 her 6th presence in the World Championships; her bronze medal in 2011 (Savoie, France) is the most significant moment of her career so far.

Joaquim Margarido

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