Swiss selection races “in a bubble”

Like many countries, Switzerland is setting restrictions on public life to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the decision by the Swiss government at the beginning of December, all private activities had to be reduced to a maximum of five persons, attended by no more than two households. Hobby sport had to be canceled; restaurants and public places, as well as many ski resorts, had to close. Competitions were allowed for professional sports teams only, under a clear concept to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Under such circumstances, Swiss national ski-o team decided to organize selection races for all athletes who are applying for international competitions. To take part in the selection races, all athletes had to provide a negative PCR test no older than 72h. 25 participating athletes were separated into bubbles of maximum five athletes living together in one room through the competition period and the following training camp days.

The competition program consisted of four races, of which the first three counted as selection races for World Championships, Junior World championships, and Youth European Championships in Estonia. Two of the four races were re-runs, which means that the athletes competed on the same course as before. They were allowed to keep the map after the first race and discuss the route choices with the other athletes.

The competitions took place in Melchsee-Frutt, ca 2000m above the sea level

Program:

December 19th
Sprint – individual start (link to results)
Sprint re-run – individual start (link to results)

December 20th
Middle distance – individual start (link to results)
Middle distance re-run – chasing start (link to results)

The concept of re-runs

According to the Swiss Ski-O team, the goal of the re-runs was to see the difference between the speed of a ski-orienteering performance and a performance which consists 99.9% of a physical ski-o performance. The re-run aimed to replace a cross-country race which has been used in earlier years as part of the selection races because the physical aspects of re-run are more relevant to ski-orienteering performance than these of a typical cross-country race.

„Further than that, our interest lies in developing our maximal technical performance speed in ski-orienteering and re-runs can help us to understand how to reach that,“ explains Swiss ski-o team coach and athlete Gion Schnyder.

In the following analysis, we will take a deeper look at the men’s class sprint and sprint re-run races.

Nicola Müller, the winner of both sprint and re-run, comments: „The re-run felt physically much easier than the actual sprint. I guess it’s because the real race is less fluent, more like interval skiing. After performing in technical situations with reduced speed, I feel that I want to push harder when the more physical sectors come. The outcome is a wave of physical under- and over pacing. The re-run, on the other hand, is more fluent. It becomes easier to pace fluently and smart – and through that, become faster overall. I understand it that way: a successful and good performance relies on a fluent rhythm.“

Nicola Müller. Photo: Reto Müller

A similar statement comes from Corsin Boos who had to suffer a broken pole at the very beginning of the first sprint race: „In the re-run, you know how to set the pace. You know what hits you next.“

On the other hand, Noel Boos and Severin Müller experienced the opposite: „The rerun felt physically much harder!“ Noel explained one of the reasons: „I never read the map in the re-run so I was at the limit already 1 minute from the start and I could never recover.“ Besides, he realized something about the route choices: „Sometimes, in the real race, you miss the self-confidence to be sure which route is faster. In a re-run, you get the chance to prove that your route choice is actually the best one.“

Foto: Reto Müller

The Swiss ski-o team men’s clan sums it up: „It would be ideal if a ski-o race becomes like a clean cross-country race where you push all the way on the correct limit to the requirement of the course, by uniting technical and physical execution. In a way that the sum of all the different requirements works out fluently.

After all, the ski-orienteering performance seems to be a pendulum between the physical and technical pacing. As better the performance, the less movement in the pendulum. Therefore, we need to work towards more balanced pacing for overall efficient performance to have as fast as possible outcome.

To get there we have two options: to increase the technical speed or to decrease the physical speed. So the key is to use the right option to calm down the pendulum and increase the outcome.“

Foto: Reto Müller

Let’s take a closer look, how did the top three athletes in sprint manage to keep their pendulum?

Winner Nicola Müller
2nd place Gion Schnyder
3rd place Gian-Andri Müller (Gianni)

Indeed, the line of the winner Nicola Müller seems to be the most stable. Nevertheless, we can spot also in the winner’s performance at least two significant errors in the technical performance. Physically, Nicola Müller shows the highest level on this start field, which secures him also a clear victory. Gion and Gianni – who reached the 2nd and 3rd place, respectively, have many technical time losses. In the straight comparison between Gion and Gianni, it seems that Gianni performs physically stronger than Gion. Due to a technically slightly more stable performance, Gion can finish in the second place, very tightly ahead of Gianni who, as a first-year junior athlete, shows a very high physical level these days.

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