Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Antonio Martinez and Andreu Blanes: The Spanish Bomb Kids

They are two of the most visible faces of present-day Spanish Orienteering, embodying the will to do more, to do better. In a game of 'all or nothing', Andreu Blanes and Antonio Martinez tell a little more about themselves, what they are and what they hope to be. Ready to 'explode' at any moment, they are the 'Spanish Bomb Kids'.

They were in Portugal at the beginning of February, then they flew to Turkey, soon they'll be 'anywhere' and the first thing that comes to mind is that to be an orienteer is the easy and perfect way of life. Perfect, for someone who loves orienteering, certainly is. But not easy, as Antonio Martinez says: “If you don't have enough money and time, there can be problems.” Luckily he has already finish his studies as a Physical Education teacher and he has enough free time to try to improve his orienteering skills in different countries. But, as he explains, “all this is possible thanks to our regional and national federations and to my Swedish club (Eksjö), which helps me with the trips and make it a bit easier for me.”

Andreu Blanes has the same opinion and talk about “a very big effort” to do all that travelling: “Most of the trips are not undertaken in the best conditions, but we know that if we want to improve and get into the elite orienteering class, we have to train a lot in different terrains.” So, in the end, even if they have to sleep on the ground, they always travel everywhere with a smile on their faces, especially if they know that they are going “to attend good training sessions or competitions.”

The biggest part is acquired”

Our talk continues and I want to hear what they think about the question of being amongst the world's best orienteers: is it something genetic or acquired? Antonio has no doubts: “First of all you need the right genetics and then, if you work hard everyday, if you are consistent, if you get good support to develop your aptitudes and you have clear objectives, anything is possible. If you have good genetics but you don't work hard, you are not going to get too far.”

Andreu draws on his own experience and thinks that “the biggest part is acquired.” He explains: “When I was a child I wasn't one of the best orienteers in my region, but in my opinion, my dreams were stronger than the others' dreams. I have worked really hard since then, leaving many things behind on the way, and always with the clear objective of being a World Champion some day.”

Thierry Gueorgiou and Roger Casal

Like almost everybody in Orienteering, they also have someone that they follow as an example, an idol. “Yes, of course I have an idol”, says Antonio. And the idol is... “Thierry Gueogiou”. But this is not something new: “Since I was a kid I have been a fan of him. Now I am an Elite runner and I have had the luck to do some training sessions with him and to compete against him. It is now that I realize, in fact, how great he is, the amazing way he competes, how much hard work he does everyday to be the best. I think it must be really hard to find an orienteer who can read maps like him.”

Andreu confesses that “Thierry has also been my idol since I was a kid”, but he adds another name: “I would also like to mention Roger Casal. He has achieved really good results without any support and being alone, which is impressive. I have trained with him for many years and he has been my reference almost every day. It is now that I'm trying to beat his bests results that I can see how far he has come.”

A reference point for the youngsters

And what about Antonio and Andreu? Did they see themselves as an example for the Spanish youngsters? “Not just me, but I think in general Spanish orienteers are making strong progress”, Antonio says. He explains that “years ago it would be impossible to think that Spain could get a medal at an international competition, whereas in the last few years we have achieved it several times (EYOC, WSCO, WUOC, JWOC).” In his opinion, the fact that Spanish athletes are now able to get those medals “should be a motivation for the younger generations who are now getting stronger.” Taking in the words of his mate, Andreu explains that “we are getting good results and that can be a reference point for the youngsters. It is always important that the new generations have the motivation to beat the previous generations.”

Gold in WOC Relay, together

The goals for the season are in some respects linked with the biggest dream of all. Antonio says: “I'm training for two peak points in this season, one of them is the Spanish Championship at the end of March and the other one, and the most important, is the World Orienteering Championships in July. I want to focus overall in Sprint but also Middle and Relay (short and fast distances).” As for Andreu, “my main goals are much the same. I want to run good races at the Spanish Championships, but the big goal of the season is the WOC, in Finland.” They point together the same result: “A place in the top 15”.

And what about that dream, the biggest of all dreams, getting a gold medal at the World Orienteering Championships? For Andreu, “maybe it seems like Sprint is the better distance for me, but I think Middle Distance is the most amazing race at WOC, so that's my dream, being World Champion on the Middle Distance.” Antonio chooses the Relay, “the most exciting distance for me. And it would be even better if Andreu was also part of it. It would be a reward for all the hard work and the unbelievable experiences that we have shared together since we were young.” Andreu is in total agreement: “It would be unbelievable to get a medal together in that discipline.”

All or nothing

One last question: Why 'Spanish Bomb Kids'? Antonio and Andreu answer as one single voice: “It's just a fun name which described us running and orienteering. It's because you never know when we are going to 'explode', meaning, we can run a perfect race and win with an amazing time and, at the same time, we can run a really bad race with a lot of mistakes and be beaten by everyone. 'All or nothing' is our philosophy.”

Joaquim Margarido

* “Niños Bomba!!” - http://bomb-kids.blogspot.com/

[See the Interview at Inside Orienteering 02/2013, at http://www.orienteering.org/edocker/inside-orienteering/2013-2/. Published with permission from the International Orienteering Federation]

Monday, March 11, 2013

XXI Iberian Championships: Luis Santos' Preview

After the extraordinary international campaign of February in our country, Foot Orienteering at the highest level returns by the hands of Clube Português de Orientação e Corrida. It will be the Iberic Championships' first leg, travelling to Gouveia to its XXI edition. A little over a month to the big event, we checked with Luis Santos, Event Director in partnership with João Dias, the preparing work and the higher expectations.

For the third year, Gouveia receives an event organized by CPOC. What particular emotion do you feel with this return to Serra da Estrela?

Luís Santos (L. S.) - The strongest emotion is precisely that one. Making one of the most known places of our country in a place that orienteers can recognize as a top spot for orienteering. I love 350kms away, but it always confused me how was it possible the absence of a single orienteering map in Serra da Estrela. A few days ago I red again the ending paragraph of my interview after directing Portugal'O'Meeting 2009 were I said that the Iberic Championship in Serra da Estrela would be the next step after Mora's POM. But a bit afterwards, I abandoned the leadership of CPOC, and other choices were made afterwards. Although I had already done the prospection of all Serra da Estrela it was another club to bet in Manteigas (GD4C) with 2 new maps. We are now back to Serra da Estrela supported in a protocol with Gouveia municipality that took more than a year to build but finally with the capacity to make this project come true to what we believe may put Gouveia among the best portuguese municipalities to do orienteering.

How do you classify the terrains?

L. S. - The municipality has terrains good enough to make Gouveia one of the best municipalities to do orienteering in Portugal. However, we have to understand that in Gouveia we have winter maps and summer maps. This difference is not important in the rest of the country but it is important in Gouveia. We have done 2011 Meeting in lower lands (Folgosinho was a bit high but we had plan B if the weather wouldn't let us use it), the Iberic Championships in mid April will be in higher ground and in Portugal'O'Meeting next March 2014, all stages will be again on lower grounds. That is, we'll have an excellent map in Vale do Rossim, but at 1500m it is unthinkable to use such an high quality map in early March. So, Portugal'O'Meeting will be totally out of Serra da Estrela. But those who already know Arcozelo lands from 2011 Meeting certainly know that no one will be disappointed with the terrains that we are going to use in 2014, all with the quality work of Tiago Aires and Raquel Costa.

What are the benefits for the Iberic Championships of the offered conditions?

L. S. - Iberic Championships will help to know exactly what Gouveia has to offer. And if orienteers are thinking that we are going to spare the best maps for Portugal O' Meeting, you have to think again. We will have trail-O first edition on Iberic Championships and we will have sprint stage of the Iberic Championships counting for the first time for the Portuguese Cup, so these two stages will be more important than the extra events in POM. Long distance and middle distance will be in terrains that we won't be able to offer in Portugal'O'Meeting but I know runners will like them. So, the technical quality of the Iberic Championships will be at a very high level. Out of curiosity we made a change on the program using Vale do Rossim also for trail-O so now, only the sprint stage won't be there. I don't want to talk much about this place, but on the internet you can almost reach its beauty, so the best is to experience for yourself when you get there.

At a time when the entries reach more than a hundred participants, what do you expect?

L. S. - The economical context will not allow us to beat records of participants. We have our goals, but the main goal is to prepare an event where all can have a very good experience and an enjoyable weekend in Serra da Estrela. The proximity to Spain and the work of communication that we are doing in Spain would make us very pleased if we could have a high number of spanish runners, but as important as that is to break the tendencies of decline of recent numbers of portuguese participants. Si, I'll wait that the distance that separates Gouveia from all that are reading these lines, won't make them decide not to do Orienteering in Serra da Estrela.

Gouveia is not only the excellence of their terrains. Despite an intense program, for those who want to discover a little more of the region, what shouldn't miss at all?

L. S. - Gouveia is a part of the Natural Park of Serra da Estrela, that is one of the most beautiful parks of Portugal. As I think that every orienteer loves Nature surroundings, the fact of having the most part of the event on a protected area (with due permissions), it will be, by itself, a good reason to participate. Visits to the springs of Mondego and Zêzere are recomended, visits to the south and southeast part of Vale do Rossim, in Penhas Douradas, with its unusual rocky formations in a treeless but amazing location are very interesting. On the low lands of Gouveia I recomend the Ecological Park of Gouveia, the museums closeby to the City Hall buiding, the Park of Senhora dos Verdes (we'll get to that story on Portugal'O'Meeting...), the city maze of Folgosinho with a map on your hands, among others. Also recomended is the gastronomy namely with the well known Albertino Restaurant in Folgosinho and Restaurant Ponte dos Cavaleiros, where you can eat very well and cheap, and where orienteers are surprised by an Arcozelo orienteering map on the balcony for all who would like to see it.

You've made several references to the most important regular event of Portuguese Orienteering, the Portugal O' Meeting, which will be held next year in Gouveia. How do you link the both events?

L. S. - I have been making several references to both events on the previous questions, but both make part of a larger project that will naturally have its highest point with Portugal'O'Meeting but that may still have an international event in 2015. The project "Orienteering in Gouveia" has a goal to transform Gouveia on a training camps location with high references at several major points: high quality orienteering terrains, mountain maps, long distance suited maps, middle distance suited maps, high quality sprint maps, good logistic conditions in Parque da Senhora dos Verdes or Ecoresort in Vale do Rossim), and including one of the most experient portuguese players on the subject - Fernando Costa and Orievents.

Do you want to leave a message, an invitation to the XXI Iberic Championships?

L. S. - Serra da Estrela is a reference among all portuguese, but it may become a special place for each of you that will get to know better those terrains. Maybe you shouldn't loose yourself there for 3 or 4 hours on the map, but certainly we will do all that we can so you can have a very nice weekend in Serra da Estrela in this edition of the Iberic Championships.

[Photo: Miguel Barradas]

Joaquim Margarido

[This article is sponsorized by Orievents, Criobaby and Municipality of Gouveia]

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Annika Billstam and Thierry Gueorgiou: Me, you... us!

One moment, two special persons, three chapters... An Interview with Thierry Gueorgiou and Annika Billstam, some interesting ideas about themselves, the way they see the Portugal O' Meeting and how they feel in Portugal.

Let me start our Interview by asking you in what language we are going to talk. I remember that you told me that you saw a movie once in Sweden with Annika, she liked it a lot, you liked it too, but... you didn't understand a word. And now, can you speak Swedish?

Thierry Gueorgiou (T. G.) - (laughs) I think that my Swedish is not really good yet– in fact it's really bad -, but Annika's French is quite good. Well, our common language is English, let's talk in English.

Thierry said that your French is quite good. Do you travel a lot to France?

Annika Billstam (A. B.) - Last year I went quite many times to France, but not this winter. All of this mainly depends on our agenda, the WOC will be in Finland, the best areas for training at this time of the year are in the South, in Portugal. So, France is not a priority.

You choose the same competitions, the same Training Camps and you travel together, or you go to one place and Thierry goes to another?

A. B. - We travel with our teams and Sweden and France don't always have the same plans. But here in Portugal the things went well.

How did you meet each other?

T. G. - Like a lot of orienteer couples, we met in the international competitions. We started to get to know each other a little bit like this. It was in 2011, when a lot of teams were training in France. I was helping the Swedish team and we met at that time.

How do you see Annika?

T. G. - I knew her before their orienteering results, which were really good. But the way I see Annika is very different from the results' way.

And what about Thierry, is he quite a nice guy?

A. B. - (laughs) Yes. He is very polite, he has been a really good help and he is very professional as a sportsman.

Do you bring Orienteering inside your home or it stays at the door?

A. B. - When you live Orienteering as your profession, you have to bring it inside the walls of your home. It should be that way, I think, when you love this sport.

T. G. - We both have the same goals in our sport. If you want to be the best, you can't think about it just in the trainings. You must think about it all the time. Of course, we try to have some moments when we are more relaxed, we do something else, but Orienteering is a big part of our lives.

Do you discuss the training methods?

T. G. - We discuss the methods, we share some ideas... We have two different ways to train, but, let's say, about 25% of our trainings, we do it together. We care a lot about the way we train and the way we prepare for the races. But this is an individual sport, we spent a lot of time alone in the forest and we'll never succeed without our own plans.

As an orienteer, what do you admire the most in Thierry?

A. B. - For sure, his technical skills, but also his mental strength. I must say that I have my own mental strength but I feel some difficulties in picking them facing every competition, although I think that Thierry has this strength.

And you Thierry, what do you admire the most in Annika as an orienteer?

T. G. - She is able to relax quite much between the races, she can keep a good mood all over the season. This is something that I really admire about her, because for me it's a total disaster when I don't win a race. Annika can keep more a natural flow and it's very good to not be very extreme. If we try to find a balance, I think that Annika is quite good at it.

Let's say that you have three hours now to do something that you like the most, but Orienteering. What do you do?

T. G. - It depends on where you are, because in Sweden, of course, you prefer to stay inside and see a movie if it's snowing. But if the weather is good, I like to go outside, pick up blueberries or mushrooms. But, unfortunately, we don't often have the time to do nothing.

A. B. - Despite being outside most of the time, I like to do Ice Skating, which is very nice in Sweden, because we have nice conditions. But if I stay at home, I also like cooking, making some fresh juices. Definitely, I like cooking.

Does Thierry like what you cook?

A. B. - No... (laughs) We share some ideas, in spite of the big differences between the Swedish and the French cuisines. But he's a good cooker, I think.

How did you see the Portugal O' Meeting this year?

A. B. - As good as it was last year. I almost feel sorry for finding out about the Portugal O' Meeting so late, because it's a really nice event. And I can see here a lot of other people, for Sweden, for example. They enjoy this a lot and I think that, for the future, I will often come back.

Can you tell me something about your four days?

A. B. - The first day, the Long Distance, it had been quite a long time since I had run in the forest for the last time – I was in New Zealand, but it wasn't that much about Orienteering – and I made some mistakes. I found the terrain very difficult in some parts. I was far behind already in the first day, but I managed to do quite good races on second and third days. I must say that the second day was my best day. In the end I think that the second position was very good, even though I lost some time to Simone [Niggli]. To lose time is always frustrating, but at this time of the year I'm never fast enough but, like in the previous years, I hope to improve my speed in the next months.

Do you like the “chasing start” system?

A. B. - Yes, I like it a lot. It's a 'man to man' competition, it's really good. I didn't feel the pressure that much, I had more than two minutes over Amélie [Chataing], so I could be very calm at the beginning, felt quite safe all over the race, even though I made a big mistake at the second last control. I'm happy with the result, but the time behind is too much, I think.

And you, Thierry, what are your conclusions in the end of the Portugal O' Meeting?

T. G. - As I said before, Portugal O' Meeting is always a very high standard. This is a very nice event for Elite orienteers because you know that you'll never be disappointed. For me, the Portugal O' Meeting is also a 'check point' in the winter, it breaks a little bit the winter in two parts. I've been doing quite a lot of good trainings before - and it will be the same, I hope, after – and I like to be here in a 'competition mood'. Again, Portugal O' Meeting has fulfilled my hopes in therms of quality.

Is there one moment that you liked the most in this four days of competition?

T. G. - Yes, it's always the same. It's when you come to the competition's Arena, you don't know the terrain that well, you don't know what to expect, and then you see these fantastic hills and you already know that it will be a fantastic day for Orienteering. It's the feeling here, it was the same feeling in Monsanto, when you see the little village and the castle on the top, you know that it will be a very special moment. When you're really passionate, you really like this kind of challenges, you can see that it will be such a nice day. And it's always the same in Portugal; you come into the Arena, you find a place in the car parking, you look around and you know that it will be a very special day.

And what about the last day? Did you like the “chasing start” system?

T. G. - Yes, of course. It's nice to finish like that, it makes the full competition really interesting. You have to set the full standards all days. What is a little bit frustrating – but I can understand, it's normal – is that many people here are in Training Camps, they don't run fast every day, so the results are a little bit strange. But at this time of the season you have to respect this, every athlete has different plans.

Let's forget the Orienteering and have some talk about Portugal. Do you like Portugal?

A. B. - Yes, a lot. I would like to explore the cities a little bit more, like Lisbon, which I know is World Heritage. Otherwise, I like everything I see, the landscape, the accommodation, the friendly atmosphere...

What about our food?

A. B. - Specially the coffee (laughs). Yeah, I love your coffee.

And you, Thierry, what does Portugal mean to you?

T. G. - For me, Portugal is one of the best places in Europe. It's the country that I've been to the most and it has always been a big, big pleasure. People are amazingly nice, it has been really fantastic to meet people and I have friends everywhere. I think that Portuguese people are really friendly and this is something that I really appreciate.

Annika says that she likes the coffee. And you, do you have something special that you like?

T. G. - Yes, I think that the food was extremely good every time I've been to restaurants. I like specially 'bacalhau' [cod fish], of course, but also 'pastéis de nata' [egg tart pastry].

To finish our talk, I've got something for you. It's not food, I have to tell you. It's the Ana Moura's last record, and it's Fado, also a World Heritage. Do you like Fado?

A. B. - I've never heard Fado, I'm sorry... (laughs)

T. G. - Me neither. But I promise we'll listen.

If you like Portugal, I'm sure that you'll love Fado!

[Six days later, Thierry sent me a message with these words: “Joaquim, I took too long to send you this message, but I would really like to thank you for your kindness to Annika and me. You guessed right, we loved the CD a lot. Thank you very much for showing us a little more of the Portuguese culture.”]

Joaquim Margarido