They completed the epic 840km Expedition Africa course through the Kouga region of Eastern Cape in a time of 118 hours 33 mins 26 seconds, beating 106 teams from 30 nations who were on the start line with them.
The team is comprised of John Karlsson, Malin Hjalmarsson, Oskar Svärd and Per Vestling, and for all of the team it is a second world title. Vestling won the title back in 2011 (with the Thule Adventure Team in Tasmania) and came out of adventure racing retirement to join SAFAT. The other three team members were all on the winning team in 2021 in Spain.
The team opened up a significant lead on the 5th day of racing on a tough 124km cycle ride through the Kouga Mountains, and completed the final 32km coastal trekking stage overnight before reaching the finish line on the morning of day 6 of the race.
Some of the final checkpoints were in the Sand River Dune Fields, and with the finish line only a short distance away the team became lost in the night. They were searching amongst the sand dunes in the dark and battling with strong winds while going round in circles. “You think the checkpoint is over the next dune, and the next,” said team captain John Karlsson, “and I think we looked over every dune! Then I said we had to do something different and told the guys to imagine we were navigating on the ocean, to think in another way. We found the checkpoint, but it was after searching for 3 hours.” The team then decided to stop for a while and wait for daylight before continuing, despite not knowing how close the next team was to them.
Combined with an injury to Malin Hjalmarsson’s foot and their exhaustion and lack of sleep the final stage was a slow one and the team took 14 hours instead of the expected 7!
The morning finish did mean there was a large crowd waiting to cheer them on from the last checkpoint at the Cape St. Francis lighthouse, and the wife and children of Per Vestling ran to hug him. Both he and Oskar Svärd were crying as they walked along the beach and into a noisy and joyous finish line reception at Cape St. Francis Resort.
There were more tears on the finish line stage and the team was greeted by Adventure Racing World Series CEO Heidi Muller who said to the crowd that they were great champions and incredible human beings. Hjalmarsson joked that the team “was enjoying the course so much we spent and extra night out there.”
Team captain John Karlsson addressed the excited school children who had come to welcome the team and said, “When I was small I dreamed to be a world champion and now I AM A WORLD CHAMPION! It shows you all that you can follow your dreams and achieve what you want if you work hard.”
Choking back his emotions Oskar Svärd managed to say, “This is what we worked together for all year and it feels so good now. It’s the best feeling.”
The team has had to overcome extreme weather, suffering temperatures of 30C+ one day and unusually cold conditions the next, and coping with heavy rains which caused the cancellation of a canyon stage towards the end of the race. Hjalmarsson said, “We had a hard time in the heat and were jumping in every stream to cool down. At one point John rolled in the mud and was all brown!”
The team has coped with all of the challenges of the 840km Expedition Africa course, trail running and mountain biking along the coast, over mountain ranges, and through sand dunes, savannah and semi-desert. They paddled the rapids of the Fish River and raced day and night to reach the finish line.
The team wins a cash prize and free entry to the next Adventure Racing World World Championship, which will be held in Ecuador in November next year.
The race continues and 400team of France are expected to be the next finishers followed by Vidaraid of Spain. The majority of the teams are still on the course and they have another 4 days to reach the finish line of this epic World Championship course, so there is much more racing to come.
You can follow the teams on the race live tracking at www.expafrica.live and find out more at www.arworldseries.com. You can also follow all of the news updates, photos and video about the race on ARWS social media @arworldseries