Friday, January 03, 2014

Hans Jørgen Kvåle: IOF's Athlete of the Month

IOF's Athlete of January, Hans Jørgen Kvåle, is an extraordinary athlete in many ways. Despite his young age, he has managed both to establish his position in the top of the ski orienteering world, and lead the IOF Ski Orienteering Athletes’ Commission successfully.

Name: Hans Jørgen Kvåle
Country: Norway
Discipline: Ski orienteering
Career highlights: European Ski Orienteering Championships (ESOC) gold in Middle and Relay 2013, with five out of five possible medals overall; bronze in the Relay at the World SkiO Championships (WSOC) in 2011; twice Norwegian champion.
IOF World Ranking position: 2

Hans Jørgen (24) is from Brandbu, a village with about 4,600 inhabitants situated 80 kilometres north of Oslo. For some months now, the Norwegian has been back there again together with his partner Emily Benham (24) from Great Britain, but for a lot of the time they are away at competitions or training camps. In fact Hans Jørgen is away from home for about 200 days each year.

Emily and Hans Jørgen have been together since autumn 2011. Emily is one of the world’s best in Mountain Bike Orienteering, with an individual silver medal in the World Championships both in 2012 and 2013 and gold on the Middle distance at the European Championships in 2013. Hans Jørgen has been one of the best in ski orienteering in recent years and had an amazing European Championships in Madona in Latvia last winter with medals in every format.

– How does Emily help you to do your best?

“We are really supporting each other in our sport and manage to keep each other focused through the season. We have together developed a very good way of doing race preparations, and are therefore always well prepared for the major races”.

A remarkably active family

Hans Jørgen is the eldest of three siblings. Sister Barbro Kvåle (21) is four times Junior World Champion in ski orienteering, and was a part of the Norwegian silver-medal team at WSOC in 2011. Her main sport is cross-country skiing and she is just behind the best in Norway. Younger brother Bjørnar Kvåle (18) took part in the Junior World Orienteering Championships last season. He got a good seventh place in the Sprint and still has two seasons left as a junior.

The Kvåle family is really doing well. One reason for their success is perhaps that they have tried a lot of different things. “When I was young I took part in all possible sports you could find in Brandbu”, tells Hans Jørgen. “It would be easier to say which sports I did not take part in, instead of those I did take part in. This has resulted in that my parents’ house is now full of skis, compasses, skates, balls, snowboards, bikes, water-skis etc. I was at O-Ringen for the first time when I was seven months old and I have been skiing since before I could walk. I feel that the base I created by taking part in all these sports when I was young has been very valuable in my development as an athlete, and it also makes it possible for me still to compete in many sports”.

The big decision

– Why did you end up choosing ski orienteering?

“When I got older, about 14-15 years old, I started focusing more on cross-country skiing, foot orienteering and mountain biking. Then as a junior I focused only on skiing and orienteering. From a young age I had taken part in a couple of ski orienteering events every year, but mostly as good foot orienteering training. When I became a junior I tried to qualify for the Junior World Championships team in ski orienteering, and succeeded in my second year as a junior”.

He was in the Norwegian silver-medal team in the Relay at the championships in Austria in 2007. The medal success gave him a lot of motivation for focusing more on ski orienteering in his training. He found out that ski orienteering suited him better than any other sport he had tried. “So I decided that ski orienteering was going to be my sport, and I wanted to see how good I could be in it”.

– How important is MTBO – Emily’s main sport – for you?

“My first MTBO event was the Junior World Championships in Denmark in 2009. Before this I had tried it at some ski orienteering training camps. My coach back then, Eivind Tonna, explained to me that ski orienteering was an ‘experience’ sport. At that time my skiing speed was better than my orienteering, so I was looking for any opportunity to improve the latter, and MTBO was the most relevant ski orienteering training I could find in the summer months”.

“Today my sport is ski orienteering, but I do quite a lot of MTBO training in the summer as orienteering technical training and when I am on the start line I always do my best. I find that combining MTBO and ski orienteering always gives me new and challenging tasks that complement my training and development”.

Swedish MTB Orienteering Champion

In MTBO he has done well at World Championships, and was fifth and sixth in individual races last year. From a Norwegian point of view it is of course very special that he has been Swedish Champion seven times as a senior! The neighbour countries in the northern part of Europe have a lot in common, but for Norwegians it is very important to win over the Swedes – the closest neighbours. No Swede has won seven gold medals in their championships!

“I lived in Sweden for 5 years, so then it didn’t feel so weird to take part in the Swedish Championships. The Norwegian Federation doesn’t hold a Norwegian Championship in MTBO, so for me the Swedish Championship felt like my national championship as well. In ski orienteering I have been close a couple of times in Sweden, but silver medal is the best I’ve got there”.

The move east to Sweden

When Hans Jørgen was fifteen years old he moved from Brandbu to Lillehammer, 110 kilometres away, and went to a sports high school to have better opportunities to improve his sporting abilities. Then when he was eighteen years old he moved to Mora in Sweden to take a year at a high school which offered ski orienteering. “After I finished at the Norwegian elite sport high school in Lillehammer, I decided that I wanted to be as good as possible in ski orienteering. Therefore I moved to Mora and took another year at high school there, in the brilliant ski orienteering community they have at Mora Skidgymnas”.

After that he moved some more kilometres east to Falun, and started studying to be a trainer. Most of the best ski orienteers in Sweden live in the neighbouring cities of Falun and Borlänge. “I was able to live and train with most of the Swedish National team athletes at Dala Sports Academy. Johan Granath was also our coach here. During these years I developed a lot as a ski orienteer and went from being best on the skis to have the navigation as my strength”.

In the spring of 2013 he finished a study in sports science in Sweden, and a five year stay in Sweden had come to its end.

The big goal for ski orienteering

He was elected to the IOF Ski Orienteering Athletes Commission in 2012 where he is now the Coordinator. The Commission has worked a lot with tasks to raise the quality level of competitions, and updating the competition rules to make them fairer. In the last year he has also been involved in getting ski orienteering into the FISU – international students sport – which is a big step on the Olympic journey, and the Commission has also given feedback on the new SportIdent Air+ system.

– How do you feel skiO should develop in the future?

“A natural goal for ski orienteering over the next 1½ years is to try to develop our sport to meet the criteria of the IOC and be elected as one of the new sports for the 2022 Olympic Games. For the Athletes Commission the main tasks will be to spread our sport to get more athletes and more nations taking part in our events, to make sure that our events hold a high and fair level and to make our sport more visible and well-known”.

Good co-operation

Eivind Tonna, another Norwegian, is leader of the IOF Ski Orienteering Commission. He and Hans Jørgen are very well known to each other – not only because they both are from Norway.

“Eivind was my coach from 2009 until 2011 when he became the Finnish national team coach. But even before this Eivind and his wife Hannele were my mentors. Eivind is a very dedicated man to our sport and he does a great job for the sport now. That we know each other quite well makes the communication between the Ski Orienteering Commission and the Athletes Commission very smooth, and many of our thoughts are being heard and followed”.

Thousands of training hours

Hans Jørgen trains for at least 2½ hours every day. From spring 2005 until now he has been training for a total of almost 8,000 hours! His record week is 32½ hours – that was in 2011. Once as a junior, and again in 2011, he did too much training and had to slow down so the body could get fit for fight again.

– How many hours did you do in your last training year – and what is the target for this training year that ends in April?

“Most days there will be two training sessions with between three and five hours of training. In total during a year this probably ends at just under 900 hours, and hopefully it will be around that also this year if nothing unforeseen happens”.

– How are you working now to improve further?

“This season my main focus is to improve my physical capacity and be even more stable in my orienteering technically. I am also working quite a lot on my mental approach this year and improving my ski orienteering on Norwegian track networks. Up to now I have always performed better outside Norway than at home, so by the time of the World Championships next year (in Norway) that will hopefully have changed”.

– What’s your favourite training session – and what do you in such a session?

“I just love it when I can do orienteering in really technical areas on a big scale on a good map. If it is SkiO, MTBO or roller-ski orienteering doesn’t matter so much. Five to eight minute intervals, with really intensive orienteering at maximum speed, is my favourite training session.

The same target every time

- What’s the goal for the winter and especially ESOC – five golds this time?

“I want to fight for victory in every race I take part in. Hopefully this will take me to the podium in every race, including the World Cup races and ESOC”. In the first three races of the World Cup in November he was third, third again, and fifth, Overall he is third in the standings at this stage.

– What makes you such a good sportsman?

“Well that’s hard to say, but I think that it’s because I am so dedicated to my sport and now also have many years of training aiming for being the best ski orienteer in the world. I have now also competed at many major races in recent years, both in the winter and summer, so my race routines are very strong and I am confident on the start line”.

– What other than ski orienteering are you doing in daily life – some studies or work?

“Right now, ski orienteering takes up most of my day time. Training twice a day and some restitution takes its hours. The rest of the day is normally filled with work for my sponsors, planning and booking training camps and Athletes Commission work”.

He has also written a book for IOF on how to train for ski orienteering.

The future

– How far are you looking ahead?

“I am not looking much further than WSOC 2015. Then I most likely will have to sit down and do a big analysis and see if and how I will be able to continue my career. Hopefully the IOC decision that spring will make my decision easy!

Athletes’ questions

Mountain bike orienteer Olga Vinagradova was last month’s Athlete of the Month. She had this question for Hans Jørgen: – Do you have any hobbies apart from sport? Do you include exercises with weights in your training programme? I know you are a sparring partner in your training with Emily Benham, and she became world champion medallist and is a very strong athlete. In what aspect do you think you have helped her to improve?”

“Most of my time goes to ski orienteering right now, but I do like to watch a good movie or TV series while I am relaxing. I do have weight lifting as a part of my training programme, but mostly in the pre-season. I like to do most of my strength training as specific strength training. That is, the kind of strength you can utilise when you are skiing”.

“Emily and I work very well together. I think I am able to challenge her – and take her out of her comfort zone! We also often train together, where I always get the long forking and she the shorter one and it is ‘first to the finish’. Good relay and mass-start training with a lot of stress for both of us.”

Ski orienteer Daisy Kudre from Estonia will be the February Athlete of the Month. Hans Jørgen has this question to her:

– I know you have moved from Estonia to Finland this year. In Finland ski orienteering is well developed and there are a lot of opportunities for competitions and ski orienteering training. Have you been able to utilise these opportunities so that you are ready for taking the step up to senior class this year? Can you tell any difference in the training culture between Estonia and Finland?

Text and photo: Erik Borg

[See the original article at Published with permission from the International Orienteering Federation]

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