adventure racing world series
(Photo/Pavel1964, Shutterstock)

‘Swedish Armed Forces’ Team Wins 2021 Adventure Racing World Series

A team of four active Swedish military officers won the Adventure Racing World Series in Gallaecia, Spain. The team ran, biked, paddled, and navigated for over 97 hours — and slept for a grand total of 4 hours.

After a grueling 4 days of racing on just 4 hours of sleep, the Swedish Armed Forces Adventure Team (SAFAT) this week stood atop the Adventure Racing world. The four officers crossed the finish line Wednesday with a final time of 4 days, one hour, and 55 minutes to win the 379-mile race. It’s the country’s first win since the World Series started in 2001.

John Karlsson led the team, which included Oskar Svard, Emil Dahlqvist, and Malin Hjalmarsson. Karlsson was jubilant in a post-race interview, despite enduring a difficult race personally:

This feeling is amazing! I never thought I would achieve this and it has taken me 20 years of racing to do it. Now, here we are. To be honest, I’ve had a terrible race. I have suffered the whole way and the team have been amazing, taking my gear and pulling me through. I just tried not to interrupt their flow and stay with them. Emil and Malin have many years of experience, like me. Oskar is quite new to the sport — it’s his fourth race I think — and his navigation is world class. Really I don’t think anyone could do it better.

Adventure Racing World Series: 3 Days of Lead Changes, Brutal Racing

On Oct. 2, 90 teams from 29 countries gathered at Monforte de Lemos, Spain, to start the 2021 Adventure Racing World Series Championships. The event was the series’ first in 3 years, after delays due to COVID-19 and other complications.

The challenges started right away, with a difficult first stage that climbed steeply into the mountains outside the Camino de Santiago after just a few miles.

Lead changes characterized the race’s first few stages, which led hopefuls from the Manzaneda ski resort to a 56-mile paddle on the Rio Sil. Teams from France, Estonia, and Russia all vied for the lead as SAFAT pulled within striking distance.

Estonia ACE Adventure – La Sportiva led for the bulk of the race. But after nearly 3 days of continuous racing, SAFAT pulled within 3 minutes of the Estonians at a checkpoint outside the city of Lugo.

The teams had traded leads throughout the previous night during a 130-mile mountain bike ride. SAFAT, led by their green but capable navigator Svard, overtook the Estonian team after they took a wrong turn. But Estonia took the lead right back when SAFAT stopped to sleep.

Down to the Wire

During the race’s final day, the Estonians built their lead. As the sun went down on what would be the last night of the race, they led SAFAT by 44 minutes.

But during a 40-mile mountain trek in waning light, their navigator started to display troubling symptoms. Timo Tammemae got cold, disoriented, and reported delirium after making thousands of orienteering decisions over the preceding 3 days on virtually zero sleep.

“I was just getting cold and really tired. I was ill and couldn’t keep any food down and was having some hallucinations,” Tammemae said. “I recovered well once we were in transition. It’s amazing what two bananas and a can of coke can do. It’s not a miracle cure, but it helped a lot!”

But the damage had been done — the forced stop cost Estonia ACE Adventure the lead for good. SAFAT crossed the finish line at A Coruna at 2:01 p.m. local time, after a 20-mile coastal trek.

Ironically, Karlsson credited his team’s win to its sound sleep — all 4 hours of it — sprinkled over nearly 100 hours of continuous racing.

“We like races where we can control our own sleep, and our tactics paid off here. We carried good sleeping bags and got good quality sleep when we needed to, and it made the difference,” Karlsson said.

Team Estonia ACE Adventure took second place, just under 2 hours behind SAFAT. You can track the rest of the 2021 Adventure Racing World Series field and view live results.

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Sam Anderson
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Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.