Just like that World Universities was upon me. I had been to two previous championships and in general performed pretty poorly. All the same, the goal this year was clear. I was there to win a medal. For once, I was one of the favorites – at least in the sprint. The last time I had been in this position had been JWOC 2011. I was the reigning silver medalist, I was in great shape, I was well prepared and I choked.
I wanted to do it right this time. Before that race and in most big races since I had almost always been one of the underdogs. Improving, but still only an outside shot at a top result. It’s a more comfortable position to be in as nobody expects anything too great. If you don’t perform, nobody is too disappointed. This time I wanted the expectation. I wanted to go to the World Universities and prove to myself that I could deal with it.
In contrast to the European Championships, I was in a good place before the week begun. I was fit, I was orienteering well and I was well prepared – those are the important things. Sure, I was also nervous, but nerves are a good thing.
The individual sprint was first and I had a very good race. The pre race geeking proved to be key, as a quick look at the results list afterwards showed the teams that had done some basic research on the complex gardens generally did very well. I felt fast and in control the whole time and apart from a couple of 50/50 route choices I didn’t make any mistakes. I had run the race that I knew I was capable of.
I knew a medal was on the cards but I didn’t expect to win gold by 30 seconds over second place. I was chuffed, I had done it. It was a pretty happy day for the whole team as we had 6 people in the top 12.
Next up was the Sprint Relay. This time it would be Charlotte, Peter, Me, Megan. This was three quarters of our Europeans team and would be three quarters of our Worlds team. Megan was coming into this team on the back of an 8th place in the sprint and a 4th/7th at JWOC. I played down our chances (‘we could run well and come 4th’), but in reality I thought we were favorites.
I was quite relaxed about the favourite tag this time around. I’d done the whole, ‘getting over myself’ thing for the sprint – who the favourites are doesn’t matter once the race starts. It also helped that I find relays to be great fun and I was ready to enjoy myself whatever happened. I had played out a few scenarios in my head before the race but the one that played out was about as good as I dared hope.
Charlotte came in with the lead. Peter broke away from the chasing pack with SUI and gave me a 5 second lead but 30 seconds back to third.
It was on. I started hard with the sole intent on putting the pressure on SUI and from that point I didn’t see anyone. It turns out SUI missed the first control but I didn’t know that so continued to push alone in the lead. My legs felt as good as they ever had and I managed to extend the lead the group behind to over a minute.
We had given Megan the perfect start and whilst this meant a lot of pressure she was her trademark cool and we got to enjoy running down the finish chute as a team. What a feeling.
This race is certainly going to live in the memory for a long time. The atmosphere was amazing and as a team we were faultless. There was a real feel good factor in the whole team, not just the 4 who were running. The individual gold felt good, it felt like a lot of hard work paying off, but the Sprint Relay was on another level. We all work hard and to see that pay off and achieve as a team was just amazing.
The rest of the week didn’t go to plan for me orienteering-wise but I really didn’t care. I had achieved what I had come to Hungary for and then some. I couldn’t get my head on straight for the Middle distance and we had an off day as a team in the Relay, all lacking a bit of something. I still enjoyed the races and much of that was down to the great team vibe we had all week.
It was a great week and in a lot of ways it took the pressure off. I had won two gold medals and whatever happened for the rest of the year, I would still remember this year as a success.