Two wrong routechoices cost Judith Wyder the gold medal at the EOC 2018 Sprint. One wrong routechoice cost Elena Roos the bronze medal. Both Swiss runners took the wrong choice on the long leg to control 5 (shown above) – and in addition Wyder took the wrong route on the following leg to control 6. Maja Alm (DEN) could also have been in the mix for the medals with a better technical performance.
From the TV broadcast it may have looked like Tove Alexandersson’s speed was so much better than the rest of the field that nobody was even close to the performance – but a more detailed analysis shows that Wyder was actually very close to climbing all the way to the top of the podium in her comeback after childbirth.
The following analysis goes through the GPS- and splits-data on the most interesting legs, and looks at where the top runners lost time and how the race was decided. But first a look at the race development through splitgraphs (note that you can skip down to the GPS/leg-analysis if that’s what you are interested in).
Splitsgraphs: The race development at a glance
First a quick look at the race development between Tove Alexandersson and Judith Wyder to see where the race was decided. Alexandersson and Wyder had an equal start – with exactly the same time after 4 controls. Then Wyder took the wrong routechoice to control 5 (losing 18 seconds – more about the routechoices below) and control 6 (losing 11 seoconds), and suddenly Alexandersson had a 29 second gap after 4 minutes of running. From control 6 to the finish the race was very tight, with Wyder actually gaining 5 seconds on Alexandersson in this part of the race.
Next we look at a graphical splitsgraph of the 8 top runners to see where the race was decided among the other runners. It is clear from the splitsgraph that the long leg to control 5 is central for the final results – with only Simona Aebersold (+9 seconds) and Natalia Gemperle (+8 seconds) being even close to Alexandersson on this leg. The other top placed runners lose 17 seconds or more to control 5 – Jenzer 16 seconds, Alm 17 seconds, Wyder 18 seconds, Ohlsson 38(!) seconds and Roos 39(!) seconds. Wyder and Gemperle are strong enough to gain time on Alexandersson towards the end of the race, while the other runners lose more steadily. Aebersold was in the battle for medals until control 16, but the young Swiss is not yet fast enough throughout a complete sprint. Anastasia Rudnaya (not shown in the graph) was ahead of Maja Alm until she made a parallel-type mistake at control 15.
Explanation of the GPS-analysis visualization
The GPS/splits-analysis is done by using official split times along with the quite inaccurate GPS-data. By coloring the runners who took the different routechoice in different colors, it is possible to see which routechoice is the best, and which runners lost time due to a wrong routechoice. Note that the coloring is not always perfect, but it is still good enough to get a good understanding of each leg. In the smaller illustrations below (click to make them bigger), you find the leg without routes and the leg with the most relevant routes drawn along with length in meters.
The first leg with significant routechoice differences time-wise was the leg to control 2. Here it is 10-15 meters shorter (and slightly faster) to go left (blue). Tove Alexandersson goes right and loses a few seconds to the best split time of Wyder and Roos. No decisive time loss – and a very short leg. It is still included here as this is one of the few legs where Alexandersson goes wrong.
The leg to control 4 is another leg where different routehoices are run and there are significant time-differences. Here red (left) is some 3-5 seconds slower because it has more corners and therefore is more demanding to execute in high speed than right. Alm is among the ones running left, and loses 4 seconds to the best split time of Aebersold here.
This it the “queen leg” of the race – as discussed already above. Alexandersson wins the leg with 8 seconds through excellent execution and choice of the best route (straight, blue color – around 545 meters length). Gemperle and Aebersold take the same choice and lose 8-9 seconds. Alm and Wyder run to the right (red – around 60-80 meters longer) and lose 17-18 seconds. Ohlsson runs far right (turquoise, 38 seconds time loss) and Roos runs far left (light green, 39 seconds time loss).
From behind the computer taking the direct blue route seems like a “no-brainer” – the competition pressure makes it much more tricky to see the small passages and to take the right choice.
After a map exchange at control 5 there is a new start, and many runners both in the men’s and women’s class did not tackle this well enough. Nearly half of the field choose left which is around 30-35 meters longer, and 8-10 seconds slower. Among the runners taking the wrong choices are Maja Alm, Elena Roos and Judith Wyder. Gemperle runs to the right, but is still slower than Alm due to non-ideal execution.
The leg to control 8 is a leg where a few runners take the wrong choice (red – left or green – right) and lose around 10 seconds. Non of the top runners do this mistake, Anastasia Rudnaya being the best-placed.
The leg to control 14 is a leg where the field really splits into several different routechoices. All of the top placed runners take the leftmost route though (blue), and the quite big time differences seem here are not due to different routechoices but more due to the big climb on this leg. Wyder shows that she is strong in the uphills and wins the leg with 4 seconds ahead of Alexandersson.
On the leg to control 16 you lose some 4-6 seconds by going left – of the top placed runners Natalia Gemperle is the only one going left, losing 5 seconds to Maja Alm and Sigrid Alexandersen who win the leg. Anastasia Rudnaya loses more than 20 seconds by going right – but she already lost half a minute on the leg before by doing a parallel-type mistake.
The leg to control 17 is a left/right choice where right is the fastest (unclear why based on the map, could be the narrower path on the left route). Here Alexandersson, Aebersold and Alm run left and lose from 2-3 to 5-6 seconds.
Alm is one of very few making a route-choice error to control 20. Going left is 40 meters longer and therefore some 5-8 seconds slower – here Alm lost the chance to battle with Gemperle for a bronze medal.
Many do a routechoice error on the very short leg to control 21 – by going left you lose 6-8 seconds – going far right is even slower. One of them is Tove Alexandersson who has her worst leg here, losing 6 seconds to Natalia Gemperle by going left. The other top placed athletes take the right choice here.
Looking at the performance index of the athletes, Tove Alexandersson has clearly an edge, and is definitely a very worthy winner. Maja Alm runs a few legs close to Alexandersson’s level, but this is a bit from where we have seen Alm in previous World Championships with the majority of her performance being below the three medalists. Gemperle has a steady performance, but misses the top performance of the other three – but Gemperle will maybe come out and shine in the forest ….?