Now that the 2012 elite season is over, it is still a surprise to many to see the name of Matthias Kyburz appear at the top of the IOF World Rankings. The current best sprinter in the world talks about his orienteering life, reflects on the season just ended and tells of his hopes for the future.
Everything has a beginning. Can you tell me something about your first steps in orienteering?
Matthias Kyburz (M. K.) - Like many orienteers, I started orienteering through my parents. At first, I wasn't interested in reading a map, so it was quite some time before I started hunting for controls in the forest. At the beginning I took part in some team competitions with my brothers, and I had the task of punching the controls while they read the map. I eventually did my first race alone at the age of 12. Before that, I was more interested in playing football or doing gymnastics.
What are your best memories from the early years?
M. K. - I have so many good memories…One of my best is from my first European Youth Orienteering Championships, in Sumperk (Czech Republic) in 2005. For me, everything was so new. So many competitors taller than me, strange food, unknown terrain and me, performing for the first time in a Swiss vest… We won the relay in the M16 class, and I think it was the only gold medal that didn't go to the Czechs. So I was really proud at that moment, and I thought I had won the most important race ever in my career!
The Sprint title that you won at the World Championships, in Lausanne, is for sure the peak of your career until now. How was it like to be there, the “three Matthiases” on the podium, in your own country, the gold medal on your chest?
M. K. - That was just incredible. The target of competing in WOC 2012 on home ground was a long-term project for me which started in 2008. At that time, I said to myself that this was surely an achievable goal. In the last few years I have improved really well, and this ambition became more realistic from day to day. The first big step was when I made it into the team. After the World Cup in St. Gallen where we, the “Matthiases”, finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th, I thought - that would be a nice result at the World Championships! But when we did even better in the most important race of the year, it was just amazing. It became a day full of smiles, so much so that one guy asked us if we were doing some kind of advert for toothpaste...
What was the secret behind your victory?
M. K. - If it were very easy to answer, then I wouldn't tell you! One reason is that we train Sprint quite often, and we also like to run Sprint races. Another reason is that the standard of Sprint training and competition is quite high in Switzerland, and so we gain something from every race.
Was it a part of your ambitions to reach the end of the season in first place in the World Rankings, and at the same time win the World Cup?
M. K. - The World Cup was of course one of my major goals this year. That was quite obvious for me, because I wanted to perform well at the European Championships and the World Championships, and all of them were World Cup races. Before the season started I was hoping for a top 6 placing in the World Cup overall. But when I went to the World Cup Final already in 3rd spot, I hoped I could get even higher...
Is there an athlete who you regard as a “model”, as an “idol”?
M. K. - No, not any more. Of course when I started orienteering at the age of 12, I was really impressed by the performances of the top Swiss orienteers. When Simone Niggli won every gold medal at WOC 2003 and Daniel Hubmann and Matthias Merz were collecting a lot of medals at JWOC, I was a big fan of theirs and it was they who motivated me to start to train seriously.
You started this fantastic season in the South of Europe, namely in Portugal, in February. What does Portugal mean to you?
M. K. - So far, when I was in Portugal for Training Camps, I always had a good time and could profit a lot from the nice and demanding terrains. Even though I do not have the best memories from this year, because I slipped on a stone and hit my head quite badly. But I will come back next year and run the Portugal O' Meeting and a two days event one week later.
What do you think of this “bulge” of Sprint races at the most important competitions?
M. K. - Like many other athletes, I think that there should be more Middle and Long races in the World Cup and fewer Sprints. For example, I do not understand why there are so many Sprints at the Nordic Orienteering Tour, when they have such great terrain for Middle and Long distance. It felt strange this year to drive for four hours from Oslo to Göteborg through the most beautiful terrain, and yet not take a single step into the forest. But on the other hand all the Sprint races this year were well organized, and I had a lot of fun competing in front of big crowds.
What are your main goals for the next season?
M. K. - My main goal is to defend the Sprint title at the World Orienteering Championships in Vuokatti. But I believe I should also be ready for my first medal in a forest discipline… I also want to be on the podium at The World Games in Colombia.
We are almost in 2013. Would you like to make a vote to orienteering and to the orienteers in the whole world?
M. K. - I wish to every orienteer nice races in 2013 and I hope to see you on the 16th March and the 14th August at the beautiful races in the Fricktal.