The Erna Raid, one of the world's toughest military endurance competitions, may face major changes next year. Organizers say that after 18 years of being held at Kautla in north central Estonia, the hosts know the area like the back of their hand and hold too much of a home field advantage.
"This territory and whole area have been exhausted," Erna Society President Meelis Rätsep told uudised.err.ee. The Estonian competitors "do not even need a map or compass anymore."
Rätsep said the decision would be made next spring but confirmed the name would stay the same.
With this year's event scheduled for August 3 to 6, some of Rätsep's claims - that the hosts "even know the locations of squirrel nests, to say nothing about clumps of sod and stumps" - could be construed as a pre-fight pep talk, except that Estonians have utterly dominated. They have swept the top three places almost every year since the 2003 debacle, when Finland won and the Chinese placed 5th and 8th. For the last seven years, a foreign squad has squeaked into the top ten only a couple times.
The Chinese entered squads in the NATO-dominated field up to 2005, but Russia has never attended. The event appears to be a minor thorn in the side of pro-Stalinist elements there. The name Erna commemorates a volunteer reconnaissance group that arrived in occupied Estonia in 1941 after fighting Stalin in Finland.