Grace Crane led out the Australian team in the pressure cooker situation following the drama of the men’s race where three of the top four teams on the final leg stopped to assist an injured Martin Johansson.
Running hard and confidently from the mass start, early reports from the forest had Grace in a good position. After the first change over, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway were clear leaders. Grace handed over to Kathryn Ewels in 16th place about 7 minutes behind the leaders, a little frustrated with both an unlucky split that put her on a different loop to the lead pack, and an uncharacteristic error near tracks.
After the second leg, Finland’s Merja Rantanen had taken the lead by some 50 seconds over Switzerland, followed closely by Sweden, Norway, Russia and the Czech Republic. As the reigning relay world champions, Finland looked to be in a strong position with Minna Kauppi running the third leg. But she would be pushed all the way by Simone Niggli (SUI) and newly crowned WOC Sprint Champion, Helena Jansson (SWE) who even took time at the change over to receive a good luck hug from her second leg runner, Kajsa Nilsson!
Kathryn Ewels continued with her great form, bringing the Aussies up into 10th place, sending Hanny out on the third and final leg.
While Australia continued building their race, steadily moving up the field, the pressure on the leading women caused many small errors. Then the announcement from the PA. ” Unbelievable – Simone Niggli she has made a really big mistake! And what about Minna? I see Helena has made a mistake – she is running in completely the opposite direction!”
To the delight of Norwegian fans, Marianne Andersen punched the spectator control first, followed 30 seconds later by Sweden, then Finland, Czech Republic then Switzerland. Only seconds separated Norway and Sweden at the 2nd last control, but Andersen held off the strong Swedish runner, sprinting up the finish chute and bringing victory to Norway.The silver medal was claimed by Sweden, bronze to Finland.
Hanny improved the Australian women’s position from 10th to finish 9th overall, proudly performing better than many other favoured teams, and gaining continued respect and admiration from other nations.
A Swiss journalist happened to ask “Where in Europe does the Australian team base itself for world championship preparation?” Well, we won’t be letting them in on that little secret will we!
1. Norway 2:13:10
Nilsen Betty Ann Bjerkrei 32:57
Hausken Anne Margrethe 50:19
Andersen Marianne 49:54
2. Sweden 2:13:28
Höjsgaard Karolina 32:28
Nilsson Kajsa 50:01
Jansson Helena 50:59
3. Finland 2:15:25
Holmström Bodil 33:33
Rantanen Merja 47:51
Kauppi Minna 54:01
4. Switzerland 2:16:12
5. Czech Republic 2:16:26
6. Russia 2:20:10
9. Australia 2:32:23
Crane Grace 39:43
Ewels Kathryn 55:42
Allston Hanny 56:58