The first sprint European Orienteering Championships start in Neuchâtel tomorrow ©EOC

Hosts Switzerland will be targeting gold when the first sprint-focused European Orienteering Championships in the history of the sport start in Neuchâtel tomorrow, with spectators absent due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The European Championships, which also form part of the first World Cup round of the 2021 season, will take the form of urban sprint events that now take place in alternate years, with the traditional version of the European Orienteering Championships featuring forest events.

More than 235 athletes from 28 nations are competing for medals in title races on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel, starting with the sprint relay, which gets the meeting underway tomorrow. 

Knock-out sprint and the individual sprint disciplines will follow.

The sprint relay is mixed-gender race where a team of four athletes run four legs, with women running the first and last legs, which all take around 15 minutes.

The event begins with a mass start so the first team to finish wins.

Matthias Kyburz is among the Swiss athletes aiming to win medals on home soil ©Getty Images
Matthias Kyburz is among the Swiss athletes aiming to win medals on home soil ©Getty Images

A total of 21 teams will be in action tomorrow, and Switzerland will have high hopes of defending their sprint relay title given the presence in their quartet of multiple previous medallists Matthias Kyburz - who was joint gold medallist in the men’s sprint the last time it was held in 2018 - and Elena Roos, who won gold in women's and mixed relay events in 2018.

Sweden’s team also looks strong as it contains Lina Strand, who won sprint relay silver in 2018 in the women's and mixed events, Gustav Bergman, who took silver behind Kyburz in 2016 in the middle and short sprint events.

There will be a strong challenge too from Norway, whose team includes Eskil Kinneberg, who was in the team that won the 2018 men’s relay gold ahead of a Swiss team including Kyburg.