“Our races show the power of nature and how little we are on this spec of a world. All we can do is take care of each other.” For the 300 athletes sitting in the race briefing ahead of the 12th ÖtillÖ World Championship race in the Stockholm archipelago, these very apt words from race director Michael Lemmel saw a few nervous smiles exchanged. With winds already gusting outside and similar conditions, with heavy rain, predicted for the next day, everyone’s mind was on how the weather conditions would affect the race ahead.
Now in its twelfth official year, the race ranked by CNN as ‘one of the world’s toughest endurance races’ involves swimming and running in teams of two across 26 islands, performing 50 transitions and covering 75km of ever-changing terrain.
Two days before, the race had also held its shorter ‘Final 15’ event (race blog report to follow). Conditions for that event were perfect, with slightly overcast skies and gentle breezes meaning competitors only had the tricky trails and occasional currents trying to slow them down.
Titles to defend
For the big one on Monday 4th September though, things couldn’t be more different. On the start line were all three reigning world champion teams: Kristin Larsson and Annika Ericsson (Team Addnature/Campz) in the women’s class, Eva Nyström and Adriel Young (Thule Crew/Trispot.se) in mixed and in the men’s class, Daniel Hansson was back with Swedish Armed Forces to defend the men’s title and world record. With Lelle Moberg out through injury however, he was this year partnered by Swedish long-distance triathlete Jesper Svensson.
The race started out fast, with the more experienced athletes going out hard and pushing the pace. Goals were on everyone’s minds though, whether it was just to finish in the case of many of the International teams unused to the terrain of the archipelago, to setting new PBs or retaining podiums in the case of the top teams. Some teams were even relishing the chance to take on the challenging conditions – including GB female team Izzy Joiner and Rosemary Byde in Sportswimrunextreme, who told us they’d been training hard on the Scottish coast in preparation for their third time on the course.
As the day went on, the predicted break in the weather didn’t arrive and conditions in fact worsened with strong currents on the second half of the course seeing even experienced swimmers pulled off course.
Making The Break
In the men’s race three teams were sticking close together within a minute of each other until Swedish Armed Forces managed to pull away 70km into the race. In an amazing feat of skill and endurance Hansson and Svensson burst across the line to set a new course record at 7:58:06, one minute faster than last year's world record. Race director Mats Skott had predicted we would see a new course record set this year, but after such a huge chunk of time was taken off in 2016 and with the weather against them, it was still hard to believe it was achieved!
“Our tactic was to keep on eye on the lead, and pull away at the right moment at the end, and we managed to stick to our plan,” Daniel Hansson explained. “We arrived at Utö and saw that it was possible to beat last year’s time, so we pushed all the way to the end.”
The Mixed Team category provided an equally thrilling day of racing. Australian Adriel Young and Swede Eva Nyström also held onto their title, finishing in 9:01:31, less than one minute ahead of Staffan Björklund and Marika Wagner, who were 15 mins behind the leaders at the 6 hour point and had pushed hard in the latter sections of the race to stage an amazing comeback. “I’ve never seen someone dig in so deep,” Adriel Young said of his teammate, who has not been able to run over the last four weeks due to injury.
The undefeated Women’s World Champion team of Annika Ericsson and Kristin Larsson demonstrated once again their world-crushing skill on the course, finishing in 10:03:42 – 40 minutes ahead of the next team.
See the full race coverage, which includes 220 Triathlon Editor Helen Webster as one of the live commentators.
Find out more!
Interested in trying swimrun for the first time? Read our guide here: What Is Swimrun?
Want to find out more about kit for swimrun? Read our Essential Guide to Swimrun Kit
Wondering how to train for your first swimrun race? Here's our expert swimrun training plan
The stunning photos are courtesy of ÖtillÖ photographers Jakob Edholm and Pierre Mange