World Cup 2023  |  Czechia round 2
By Christo Peters - Fri 1 Sep 2023 11:36pm

Coming off the amazing JWOC and WOC weeks, it’s clear New Zealand orienteering is in a very exciting place right now. The World cup area was an area many had aspired to run in, from the complex city streets to the karst rock. We had a dream team of eight athletes (plus chef Patrick) with no official coach or manager. Big thanks to Matt who did most of the pre-organising and was an excellent sprint coach for the first two races. Tim and Toby were also very happy to have more company during a world cup week (recently they’ve been having to manage everything themselves). 

Czech orienteering is broadcast on television so the cameras and media were out in force, and provided a big atmosphere. The use of a drone following athletes in the forest was novel and the skilled operator provided some fantastic coverage. Race highlights included a sprint podium for Tim and a long-anticipated competitive result in the sprint relay (7th nation).

One aspect to note is that World Cup events have larger field sizes than WOC because teams are allowed to enter more athletes per race. Entry numbers depend on the previous strength of each nation meaning that the large nations send very large teams (Sweden had 13 women & 15 men). Comparatively NZ have a very small team, which emphasises the brilliance of Tim’s sprint podium as it is much harder to place well than at the WOC. 

The Sprint was situated one hour’s drive north of Prague in the town of Ceska Lipa. After some last-minute pre-race mapping by Joe and Tim the team felt well prepared for the mix of city streets and technical multi-level and castle areas. Some teams may have over prepared as they got caught out by an entrance which most had armchair-mapped as open but was closed during the race.

For the results it is hard to go past Tim’s 6th place podium in the sprint after a rather hampered training period. Tim made it on the finishers’ stage only 27 seconds behind the winner. Laura added to the sibling success with an excellent world cup best of 20th place! 

Penelope also had an excellent run and was the 2nd JWOC woman athlete to finish as Viktoria Mag from Hungary was 10th. Nathan had his first ever senior elite competition. One of his best moments was while he was warming up for the sprint, surrounded by all these famous orienteers. He said he felt so giddy and excited instead of his normal serious warm-up demeanour.

Tim 6th (+0:27) – Laura 17th (+1:24) – Penelope 31st (+1:44) – Joseph 90th (+2:21) – Nathan 111th (+3:20) – Briana 113th (+5:47)

Athlete thoughts:
Tim; felt amazing getting onto the podium despite the shape he had arrived in and the hurdles in training this year although it seemed like the podium would still be in reach. The technical prep was great although the castle section was still quite stressful. It was fun to watch on the livestream afterwards to see everyone else messing it up. 

Laura: was stoked and felt the technical prep really paid off, feeling awesome leaving the multilevel area after smashing it with some high radio splits in the first part. Laura started about midway in the field and came into the finish in 8th, before holding off nearly all of the top 50 runners who seemed to be having a lot of struggles in the tricky areas that Laura had nailed.

Briana: Had a pretty decent technical race and wasn’t last, so goal achieved but certainly felt the lack of sprint training coming up the hill in the last part of the course.

Nathan: Great first experience at elite level, regardless of time/results. Excited about tomorrow.

Joseph: It was fun but I messed up the control order twice. Felt awesome otherwise during the rest of the race.

Penelope: It was quite slippery and had a few hesitations but overall an okay race, very pumped for tomorrow.

Matt: Collectively impressive performances on a tricky sprint which caught out many of the best. Very optimistic about tomorrow following today’s performances. The red Ferrari is just warming up…

Sprint relay 

The sprint relay was at the same arena as the individual sprint but used a different section of the town. The team had anticipated complex course setting and it delivered – with four way forking that is rarely seen. 

A strong on paper team of Penelope, Joseph, Tim and Laura team gave it their all to finish as 12th team across the line, 9th official team across the line, and then an amazing 7th place after some DQ’s of other teams. It was an exciting but stressful time in the arena as Penelope passed over to Joseph in 5th, who handed to Tim in 16th, who passed to Laura in 8th. Laura moved up to 7th for most of the race before a small miss in the last loop and some tired legs.

7th is the best sprint relay result for New Zealand in a senior elite race and we are all excited to improve on that next year! Penelope, Joseph, Tim, and Laura all ran fantastically and were in contention for 5th place during the race. Interestingly each member of this team currently lives in different countries: Tim (Sweden), Penelope (USA), Laura (UK), Joseph (NZ). 

Briana and Nathan paired with two Australians for a mixed team and both had okay technical races but felt yesterday’s race in their legs for their senior elite sprint relay debut. Briana passed to Nathan in 60th and Nathan held this to pass to Toby C in 60th where they finished 59th overall.

Athlete thoughts:

Penelope: Before the race Penelope was focussed on reading the barriers and control location correctly but not very nervous after getting all the nerves out yesterday. She held around placing 20th-14th during most of the race trying to get ahead but was very excited to come through the third to last control in a really high place. After finishing the only thought was about downloading for a clean run and she was stoked when it came out OK. The atmosphere was electric for Nathan and he came with lots of motivation to train in the coming months with also quite a few learnings to take away. Running alone was quite different to the JWOC experience, and the ‘legs were quite cooked today’ which showed a great peak during JWOC. The taste of senior elite races helps with the view forwards to Oceania sprints next year and going for JWOC and potentially WOC next year.

Joseph: So excited to be a part of a great team result, I was jumping up and down watching Tim and Laura’s race. I made one small mistake but stayed safe which I think is a big part of racing a relay leg.

Tim: It was amazing to finally get a result with the team we have been dreaming of for years so it is very motivating for WOC next year

Briana: It was a really tough race physically for me, and I found the route-choice really challenging but I’m excited to get into gear for next year’s sprints.

Laura: Very exciting to be fighting for top 6 right through to the last leg. It felt similar to Poland World Games but for all 4 legs instead of just the first two.

Matt: New Zealand sprint relay team has finally come of age. So so close to a diploma but an exceptional team effort nonetheless.

Middle distance

The Middle distance was a sandstone forest with flat top hills and the cliffs lining the edges. Amazing to run in because whatever mapped could be found on the ground, but it was all up and down (think Flock Hill but covered in trees). 

Joseph had a dream come true as he sat all smiles in the leader’s chair for 90 minutes (his cheeky fist pump on the finish line was caught on camera) and the whole team enjoyed watching him hold off runners. Joseph had an early start due to lack of world ranking events but smashed the course to a dominant 5 minute lead in the finish. 

Penelope also finished in the lead but didn’t quite make it to the leader’s chair before another athlete overtook her 1 minute later!

All 3 women had very early starts due to lack of world ranking events/points and got to try the ‘after-race quarantine’. This was imposed so the official quarantine didn’t have to close so early (only downside to this being Penelope nearly got dizzy doing her warm-down laps in such a small area). Despite minimal tracking, they all pulled out solid performances on a very steep and technical map. After warming down they settled in to watch the 4 NZ men who were all spaced about an hour apart and once Joe stormed in there was excited dot-watching as Matt tracked extremely close to Joe’s radio times before flying in for 2nd only 14 seconds behind Joe. For a while it seemed just like a Nationals middle with Joe and Matt 1-2 until a German finally toppled them. Toby and Tim were both returning to the sandstones after WOC 2021 and arrived within 4 minutes of Joe’s time giving a very tight NZ spread. The rain didn’t get as bad as initially feared and the sandy slopes meant the later starters were not slipping down muddy water slides.

Joseph 37th (+5:41) – Matt 40th (+5:55) – Tim 57st (+7:25) – Toby 74th (+9:29) – Laura 92th (+21:19) – Penelope 94th (+21:11) – Briana 110th (+30:36)

Athlete thoughts:

Joe: It was really fun to finally race in this cool terrain after watching from back home in 2021. I’m satisfied with my race and especially that my early start meant I got plenty of time in the leader’s chair which is something I’ve dreamt about. Also very satisfied to put a good forest race together since I didn’t get to compete in the WOC middle final.

Matt: It was a satisfying technical performance which just lacked a bit of top end middle-distance speed. I was very proud to come into the finish only 14 seconds behind Joe and to see him in the leader’s chair for so long. Compared to the WOC middle final, the terrain and therefore mapping made interpreting and navigating much easier. I also enjoyed the cooler weather and light rain.

Laura: Didn’t nail all of the route choices with deciding between climbing or contouring but coming down the big hill into the finish felt great.

Penelope: It was fun to switch into some forest racing but given my lack of forest experience in the past few years I didn’t expect much. Today has left me with some great motivation for forest orienteering in the future.

Briana: It was amazing terrain and really technically enjoyable, I’m really happy with my execution of the tricky cliff controls (except for the one I made a 90 degree error on, whoops!)

Tim: It was steep but very enjoyable and one of my favourite terrain areas.

Toby: It was a really fun terrain and a fun course, subsequently punished for not paying enough attention and really looking forward to the long distance in the same terrain tomorrow

Nathan: Great to see the New Zealanders perform so well, and especially Joe in the leader’s chair for hours. Excited to wait in the arena again for more good results.

Long distance
In a very similar sandstone valley/plateau terrain to the WOC 2021 long distance six of the team started the race without many expectations or pressure. Only Toby and Briana raced the long at WOC so the other 4 faced a challenge they had not completed for a long time (or ever for Penelope, Nathan and Joseph). Laura returned to elite longs after an eight-year hiatus.

Everyone prevailed through the drizzle and sand everywhere to complete the course in decent times ranging from Tim in 1:54 to Briana in just 2:11 and we had a thoroughly deserved team celebration dinner afterwards. We all had plenty of tales about trying to  wipe sand off the map with sandy hands and sandy shirts only to smear it into mud.  Matt had torn his map bag and had to resort to following a fellow runner until they reached the map exchange point.

Tim 48th (+18:10) – Toby 51st (+18:55) – Joseph 53rd (+19:31) – Laura 84th (+39:21) – Matt 84th (+26:11) – Briana 106th (+54:23)

Athlete thoughts:

Briana: Although I was pretty apprehensive about this race before starting. I (both from the climb number and the memories of the WOC Long slog). It ended up being a really great race for me. I was very satisfied with my technical execution in the control circles and happy I chose some really good routes, including a few where I got ahead of people who had caught me up. To be honest, I felt crap on every climb and was doubting whether I would even finish the race but on every downhill I was loving it 100% and appreciating life so I guess orienteering is a balance!

Toby: I was a bit disappointed with my performances in the middle so I was eager to turn it around with a solid technical performance. I knew what to expect after the world cup in 2018 and WOC in 2021, an extremely physical course with demanding route choices where taking too much climb can be very costly. Because of that I started quite conservatively and I was happy to notice I was slowly gaining time on the Italian ahead of me despite that. What I didn’t expect was the effect of the weather. The rain had more effect on the sandy ground than I expected and it was extremely slippery on the steep slopes making not only descending but also sidling much more difficult. By halfway my map was barely readable with all the dirt and there was no clean spot on my shirt left to wipe it clean on. Overall though I felt I managed the challenge very well, technically very clean with just some suboptimal route choices and not a great (but still good) day physically.

Joe: I’m really pleased with how my energy held up in my first international senior elite long distance and I had a lot of fun trying to fly on the downhills.

Tim: Very tough physically, but good technically. It’s my longest run and longest training week since March, so nice to finally be making some progress with my tendon.

Laura: I haven’t run a long distance in many years, so I took it steady and tried to look around and enjoy the beautiful forest and rocks. Mission accomplished.

Matt: The End.

Nathan: Had a great time sliding between the sandstones in the public race and seeing the team with great performances all round was the perfect way to end the week

Mix of post-race write up from Briana Steven and Joolz Moore

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