With only a few small mistakes between the favourites running speed and pure strength uphill was decisive in the women’s European Middle Distance Championship.
Swiss favourite and now 23 times gold medal winner at EOC and WOC Simone Niggli lost 29 seconds straight out of the gate to the first control by running down into a big depression and then up again instead on running around on the edge of it. Was this just a cautious start or the indication of a new regime?
Helena Jansson also had a shaky start with a little hook at control no. 2 and another seemingly unnecessary swing at control no. 4.
To control no. 6 Simone took the course setters preferred route choice and closed the gap to Minna Kauppi. However Minna was still in the lead and managed to be almost as fast to control no. 6 by opting for the long way around running down through a green and onto the road. Helena ran straight, which turned out to be the slowest route choice.
Minna was indeed the fastest all the way to control no. 7, but made a big 48 seconds mistake at control no. 8. From here Simone took the lead and never looked back. Minna was also momentarily overtaken by Tatiana Ryabkina and Helena Jansson, but she was clearly stronger than both of them up hill and came back on the long leg to control no. 10.
From here on in there no mistakes or changes in the position between them and so the strongest Swedish favourite for a medal, Helena Jansson had to settle with 4. place. She was joined on the podium by her team mates Tove Alexandersson in 5. place and Annika Bilstam in 6. place.
Gold medal: Simone Niggli, Switzerland
Silver medal: Minna Kauppi, Finland
Bronze medal: Tatiana Ryabkina, Russia
(Click on the map to see it larger.)
After the race at the press conference there were questions to Simone and Tatiana about the possible positive contribution from the mama effect. Both have given birth last season. Tatiana was very clear when she expressed that becoming a mother had changed her priorities and that the sport was now only an important second. It didn’t seem to take anything away from the pleasure of standing there with a medal around her neck after a strong and technically perfect race.