Saturday, March 01, 2014

Andreu Blanes: Athlete of March on the way to the top

I am together with my team mates. We have trained in the morning and we have eaten. Now it is time to rest, waiting for the afternoon training which will be in terrain of very extensive woodland with lots of rocky details, just as in the 2011 World Championships (WOC). It will be a mass start, that’s for sure. While we wait and rest, we play cards. I have a handful of good cards. This round will be mine!” One simple exercise, an appeal to the imagination and an answer that says so much about the current leader of the brand new IOF’s World Ranking in Sprint. We talk about Andreu Blanes Reig, a Spaniard from Onil, Alicante where he was born 22 years ago. An athlete who breathes orienteering through every pore and whose craving for victory is ever-present. Even in a moment of rest. Even in a game of chance!

Name: Andreu Blanes Reig

Country: Spain

Discipline: Foot orienteering

Career highlights: World Championships: 31st place in Middle Distance (2013, Finland), 24th place in Sprint (2012, Switzerland), 14th in the Relay (2013, Finland), Junior World Championships: 2nd place in Sprint (2011, Poland)

IOF World Ranking position: 64 (on 31/12/2013)

This interview has suffered some delay due to the exam season in Spain, but now everything is calmer and we have some time to talk. I ask Andreu Blanes first about his studies: “I’m studying Civil Engineering and these were the exams for the first semester, covering all the work done since the beginning of the college year in September.”

Orienteering was the reason for Andreu now being at the UCAM – Universidad Católica San Antonio de Murcia – after having the chance to get a scholarship and be able to move on both with orienteering and his studies. Andreu accepted and has just moved to Murcia after four years studying and training in Madrid. According to him, “the main reason for this change had to do with the facilities for training and study, that I have in Murcia and that I didn’t have in Madrid. In Madrid it was impossible to do both at the same time, and the studies are definitely the most important thing for my future.”

I ran faster than the map”

It all started in school. Great enthusiasm led him to fall in love with playing sport, and he joined several groups in different sports. But as he began to realise that there wasn’t enough time for everything, the range of options decreased. Football was the first sport to fall and soon after, basketball. In the end he kept on with orienteering, a decision which he himself cannot explain very well, because, notoriously, in the beginning his physical capacity was way above his technical standard. Or, making use of his words, “I ran faster than the map.”

And yet in 2011 he clambers on to the Junior World Championships podium, winning the silver medal in the Sprint distance. The athlete doesn’t deny this reality and acknowledges: “The move to Madrid and joining the High Performance Joaquín Blume Centre turned out to be decisive. I believe that joining the Centre was the result of personal reflection, and had to do with the need to think seriously about my future, to start pushing hard and to analyse the ‘whys and wherefores’ of things. It was a determining step for being what I am today, and it was the key to reaching the Elite and getting the result I did.”

Speaking about 2011 and the Junior World Championships in Poland, Andreu remembers the huge excitement and the grateful support from those who were closest to him. “It was an amazing experience and my companions were of great help in those moments, getting me to run faster”, he recalls. Certainly a rewarding experience that had several consequences, both sports-wise and personally: “It was important in my career because it helped me realise that I was going the right way and that, with hard work, I could reach the Elite of the orienteering world. It was also important because it meant I had the chance to run for the Swedish team Södertälje-Nykvarn Orientering and have Salomon as sponsor, in addition to a little help from the Spanish government.”

There are people who have orienteering in their dreams”

- What are the major difficulties that face the athlete Andreu Blanes?

“The biggest problems for me are economic, although the issue of the economic crisis is, in Spain’s case, almost a non-issue. In fact, since we have so little, there’s not too much that they can take from us. This is how it is: in Spain there is no financial support for a sport such as orienteering and everything is done with the use of very few resources. It is an old problem, although it should be recognised too that the assets of the Spanish Orienteering Federation are diminishing. To get a bit of simple support is an almost impossible mission. Fortunately, there are people who have orienteering in their dreams and who believe in what I myself believe in. It is thanks to them and to their efforts that I have the opportunity to be here now.”

Different things at different times

Speaking of his training routine, Andreu Blanes explains that his week is always dependent on whether or not there is a competition. But the most normal is something like: active rest on Monday, break on Tuesday, technical training on Wednesday, rhythm changes on Thursday, scroll on Friday and competition on Saturday and Sunday. All of it under the supervision of a coach: “Throughout my career I have had two coaches: Jesus Gil and Alberto Minguez. Both have taught me a lot. The coach is a very important person, it is he who shows how to arrange the pieces to solve the puzzle”, he says.

Apart from orienteering, Andreu enjoys all kinds of sport but does not follow any in particular. He also likes movies a lot, although he’s not as frequent a visitor to the cinema as he would like to be. The same applies for reading. Above all, Andreu enjoys doing different things at different times; “it’s more fun than doing the same things all the time”, he says.

Only time will tell where we will arrive, but we’ll get a long way!”

- In the recent World Championships, Spain managed to get at least three athletes in each of the individual finals, and Andreu Blanes achieved the best result ever by a Spanish athlete in Middle Distance at a World Championships. What can Spain expect this time, and how far can you go?

“We have a good team – a young team with lots of ambition for the future. We are now only a ‘possibility’, but we hope to become a ‘reality’ in the future. We have no big financial resources, but there are people working hard to make sure that the day of our statement will come. And we all yearn for that moment to arrive as soon as possible. The combination of the athletes and the motivated people supporting this project will surely show tremendous results. Only time will tell where we will arrive, but we’ll get a long away!”

Antonio Martinez, Roger Casal and Thierry Gueorgiou

Andreu Blanes and Antonio Martinez – another rising star of Spanish orienteering – enjoy a very special relationship. But who are these ‘Bomb Kids’, as they are called? The answer is ready: “The ‘Bomb Kids’ were two boys who went orienteering, sometimes doing very well and sometimes very badly (laughs). Today things are more serious and that difference between good and less good performances is blurring little by little. Antonio and I have always been together, and it is very important for us to be close to each other. It is unthinkable to see me in a major competition without Antonio and I believe the same goes for him. We have always supported each other and will continue to do so.”

In addition to Antonio Martinez, there are two other athletes whom Andreu enjoys in particular being with. We talk about Roger Casal, another big name in the sport in Spain, and Thierry Gueorgiou. About the last one he says that “what he does is amazing, and I can learn so much from him.” As for his compatriot, the words are equally complimentary: “He could go really far. It has been wonderful to be able to learn from him every day.” In brief: “Most certainly, when I look into the mirror and I see what level I’m climbing up to, I begin to compare myself with them,” he concludes.

One more step in my career”

- You’ve recently been to Portugal and it was possible to see you climb twice to the highest position on the podium, ahead of names like Daniel Hubmann, Frederic Tranchand, Philippe Adamski and Thierry Gueorgiou. How valuable are these victories?

“These victories are just one more step in my career and demonstrate that I’m on track. Personally, the two victories are very motivating, especially because it is not always easy to understand if we are doing things correctly or not, and now I have confirmation. But there is still much to do and a whole load of hard work ahead.”

The results are good and so also are my feelings”

Andreu Blanes is preparing for the new season constructively. But things have changed a lot; the athlete is at a new university, in a new city and having new experiences. “At the moment the results are good, and so also are my feelings”, he says. Hence the future, at least immediately, seems to be one with smiles: “I hope to continue like this and be at 100% at the most important moments of the season. Until now, training has been mostly about volume, but now I am working on technical orienteering more intensively. This pre-season is proving fantastic and I’m travelling a lot, sharing my work-outs between Portugal and Spain. I want to continue like this with this hard work in order to get to the World Cup in Spain and the European Championships in Portugal in the best possible shape.”

The ultimate goal is always the World Championships, but the European Championships and the World Cup in Spain this year are big potential landmarks. Three strong bets that bring the following preview: “I believe I can achieve good results, and I will work for them with all my strength. In particular I hope to enjoy the races, and achieve the best results possible.” Referring specifically to the World Cup in Spain, Andreu Blanes leaves us his opinion: “I think it will be a great event. I know I will find challenging and demanding races, and hopefully will be at my best”. Finally, a message to the rest of the Elite: “Those who come to Spain will find high-quality orienteering and will be facing a Spanish team at full strength. It will be unforgettable, that’s for sure!”

Athletes’ questions and answers

The question from Daisy Kudre, the Athlete of the Month in February: World Orienteering Championships 2017 will be held in Estonia. Have you ever run orienteering here and do you think the terrain suits you to achieve good results?

And Andreu Blanes’ answer: “I have never been to Estonia, but I think the terrain can suit me well, maybe not now but in 2017. It’s all about training. I will be 25 then, and my hopes are to be in the top positions.”

Finally, the question from Andreu Blanes to Martin Fredholm, Athlete of the Month in April: “How do you train for TrailO? And what has been the best moment in your career so far? Why is it the best?”

Text and photos: Joaquim Margarido

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

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