After a long, grueling competition, the Swedish Armed Forces Adventure Team emerged victorious at Tuesday’s conclusion of the 2023 Adventure Racing World Championship.
The team of four athletes crossed the finish line at South Africa’s Cape St. Francis Resort about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. It marked the end of an exhausting journey through the Kouga region of the country. The athletes covered a staggering 522 miles in just 118 hours, 33 minutes, and 26 seconds.
The Swedish team, consisting of John Karlsson, Malin Hjalmarsson, Oskar Svärd, and Per Vestling, also had plenty of competition. They faced off against 106 teams representing 30 nations — but the Swedes also had experience.
Their victory marked the second World Championship title for each member. Vestling previously secured the title in 2011 with the Thule Adventure Team in Tasmania, and the remaining three members triumphed in the 2021 edition of the race in Spain.
“This is what we worked together for all year and it feels so good now,” Svärd said. “It’s the best feeling.”
Trekking, Cycling, and Kayaking
The turning point of the team’s journey came on the fifth day of the adventure race.
They seized a commanding lead during a demanding 77-mile cycling stage through the rugged Kouga Mountains. Then, the team navigated through a 20-mile coastal trekking stage, finally reaching the finish line on the morning of the sixth day.
However, the final stages were not without their trials. The team had navigation problems in the Sand River Dune Fields during the night. Fighting against exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and an injury to Hjalmarsson’s foot, they persevered, spending 14 hours to complete the stage instead of the anticipated seven.
Throughout the race, the team faced extreme weather conditions, from scorching temperatures exceeding 86 degrees Fahrenheit to unseasonably cold spells. Heavy rains even forced the cancellation of a canyon stage.
“We had a hard time in the heat and were jumping in every stream to cool down,” Hjalmarsson said. “At one point, John rolled in the mud and was all brown!”
Crossing the Finish Line
The team’s tenacity was rewarded with a warm reception from a spirited crowd at the Cape St. Francis lighthouse, organizers said. Reflecting on their achievement, John Karlsson inspired a crowd of excited schoolchildren, according to a news release.
“When I was small, I dreamed to be a world champion, and now I am a world champion!” he said. “It shows you all that you can follow your dreams and achieve what you want if you work hard.”
As the newly crowned champions, the team receives a cash prize and free entry to the next Adventure Racing World Championship. That’s slated for November of next year in Ecuador.
But this year’s competition still isn’t over. Team 400 of France is expected to be the next to finish, organizers said, followed by Vidaraid of Spain. With the majority of the teams still navigating the course, there are four more days of intense competition ahead.
For live race updates, photos, and videos, check out the competition website.