Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Martin Fredholm: "Always good at orienteering but never good at running"

18th September 2004, the World Trail Orienteering Championships’ prize-giving ceremony. The event’s first edition, held in Västerås, comes to an end with the Open Class podium entirely tinted by the blue and yellow colours of Sweden. Along with Ola Jansson, the big winner, and Stig Gerdtman, third placed, a 27-year-old athlete tastes the first big moment of his fantastic career. Ten years and ten podiums later, he is one of the very few athletes worldwide who have participated in all World and European Championships until now. A few days before another big clash, it’s time to get to know Martin Fredholm, the IOF’s Athlete of the Month.

Name: Martin Fredholm
Country: Sweden
Discipline: Trail orienteering
Career highlights: World Trail Orienteering Championships – Open class, Individual competition: 1st place (2006), 2nd place (2004, 2008 and 2013); World Trail orienteering Championships – Open class, Team competition: 1st place (2010 and 2013), 2nd place (2009), 3rd place (2011). European Trail Orienteering Championships – Team competition: 1st place (2008 and 2012).

You do love sport, right? But you don’t like running that much. So, what to do? In the case of Martin Fredholm, the answer is “TrailO”. Now aged 37, working on his Master of Science in Engineering (Electrical Engineering) in the sub-field of computer systems, he is one of the most active athletes in a very demanding discipline. An ‘interventionist’ type, he also contributes a lot to the work of IOF’s Trail Orienteering Commission.

“When I was younger, in addition to orienteering, I played football and bandy”, he remembers. But if you think that orienteering is a family matter, you’re completely wrong. Martin explains: “I wasn’t born into an orienteering family. I tried orienteering (FootO) for the first time when I was 8 or 9 years old. It was an event organised specifically for beginners with the purpose of getting them interested in orienteering. Marshals were placed at every path junction to make sure no one got lost, and everybody got a prize at the finish. After that I started to compete in some events.” The truth is that this interest in Foot Orienteering was never at the forefront, mostly because Martin “was always good at orienteering but never good at running.” His last competition was at the age of sixteen “since the courses started to get longer and playing football took up a lot of my time.”

Come, see, stay and… win!

Between his studies and the football – he has been an assistant referee (linesman) since he was 17 years old – Trail Orienteering came into his world unexpectedly. “My mother had helped organising a TrailO competition and suggested that I should give it a try”, he says. Martin accepted the challenge, tried one course and… he liked it! The reason seems to lie in TrailO’s soul: “It incorporates the basic elements of orienteering, map reading and terrain interpretation, but without the running part. It’s also one of few sports where everybody can compete against each other on equal terms, regardless of sex, age or physical ability”, he says.

The 2004 World Trail Orienteering Championships (WTOC) in Västerås, Sweden, emerged as the first major event in Martin’s career and he certainly made the most of the opportunity, getting the silver medal. After 5th place in Aichi (Japan, 2005), he won the world title in Joensuu (Finland, 2006), a moment well preserved in his memory: “It’s not something I think of everyday, but I do remember it well. After the first day I was placed 5th, one point behind the top four. I started early on the second day and was one of the first to finish. After I had finished I was actually a bit angry and displeased. It might seem strange since the speaker had announced that I had a full score, no mistakes. The reason for my displeasure was that I felt that the course on the second day was too easy, and I considered my chances of a podium finish as very slim and the chance of a gold medal as non-existent. So after two hours of sulking, waiting for the last one to finish, when Kjetil Waaler from Norway came running and told me that I had won, I didn’t believe him. He had to convince me that I had actually won.”

TempO or PreO?

Following TrailO’s development closely as he does, Martin’s opinion is that “Trail orienteering has evolved over the years and still does so in a positive direction. The introduction of the Guidelines was an important step which has led to better courses”. On the other hand, “everything that improves TrailO, such as the introduction of TempO, is important. TempO focuses on quick thinking and decision-making and could be more attractive to non-TrailO persons and a way to attract new people to TrailO”, Martin comments.

- Personally, which do you prefer: TempO or PreO? (PreO is the term now used for the non-timed format of TrailO)

“I like them both. They both have their merits and test different skills so I don’t prefer one over the other.”

30-40 TrailO competitions in Sweden”

Our conversation takes a broader character and turns now towards the giant production line of TrailO champions that is Sweden. Ten WTOC’s and eight individual gold medals so far, what is the secret? There seems to be no easy answer to this question, but Martin is able to give his opinion: “We organise between 30-40 TrailO competitions every year in Sweden. The best trail orienteers participate in more than 30 events each year. But that also includes competitions in the other Nordic countries as well as some in the rest of Europe. It is important to gain experience from many competitions and different countries that have different terrain types, and where the planning and placement of flags are done slightly differently.”

The large number of good TrailO competitors in Sweden makes the process of being selected for the national team extremely hard, as Martin explains: “I don’t envy the selection group that nominates the team. For example last year I was not selected for the WTOC TempO but later, in September, I won the Swedish Championship in TempO.”

Inexperience and lack of humility are the biggest problems”

- At the end of the course, we often find there is some disagreement about this or that control, this or that description, this or that map. What’s the biggest problem in this discipline?

“Since TrailO is to some degree an assessment sport, there will probably always be some sort of disagreement about something. The mapper makes an interpretation of the terrain; the planner then uses that interpretation to set TrailO problems. We, the competitors, then have to try to solve the problems that the planner has set on his interpretation of the mapper’s work.”

“Sometimes the map is not as good as it could have been. And sometimes, flags are placed with too fine distinctions between ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’. And some competitors can never accept that they have made a mistake. Many complaints are made by inexperienced competitors, and inexperienced planners tend to place the flags with smaller margins of error than they have to. So I would say that inexperience and lack of humility are the biggest problems.”

Talking and promoting TrailO is not enough”

Imagine that, near the finish point of a PreO course, Martin Fredholm hears someone whispering: “This is not for me”. What would his reaction be? He will either remain silent or he will say: “Have you tried it? If not, you should! Thierry Gueorgiou thinks it’s good training for foot orienteering”. How to get more people doing Trail Orienteering is, in fact, one of Martin’s major concerns. “There is no quick and easy solution to this. Talking and promoting TrailO is not enough. You have to get people to actually try it. A good example is O-Ringen during the rest day, where anyone can try the TrailO courses we competed on earlier in the week. About 100-200 people try this every per year. At each control there is an experienced TrailO competitor who can help them if needed. We usually get positive responses from those who try it, and hopefully they spread the word that TrailO is fun and challenging”, Martin says.

- Sometimes, we have this “romantic” vision of Trail orienteering as the most inclusive discipline of all, with the Paralympic and Open Classes having the same opportunities, but in the end the image passing to the outside is one of a discipline just for old and disabled people. How does one fight this situation?

“Showing them a picture of last year’s TempO podium?”

PreO Relay and an electronic punching system

- I ask you, as a member of the IOF’s Trail Orienteering Commission, two simple questions for two simple answers: PreO Relay? Electronic punching system?

“PreO Relay: Interesting format that opens up for new tactics, since the teams themselves must decide who shall solve which control. It could well replace the team event in the WTOC and the European Trail Orienteering Championships (ETOC) in a couple of year’s time.”

“Electronic punching: We are working on it. But currently there is no system on the market that fully works with PreO and TempO and doesn’t cost a lot of money.”

I call it interesting, not strange”

- Within a couple of days we’ll have the ETOC in Portugal. “Portugal, is this not a strange choice?” Has this ever occurred to you?

“I call it interesting, not strange. There were similar situations in Hungary in 2009 and France in 2011 for the WTOC. The organisers from Portugal have visited other events and have been willing to learn about TrailO, which is a good start.”

- What are you expecting from the Portuguese event?

“It will be interesting to visit a new country that probably has a different terrain than I’m used to. And I’m sure the planners, in cooperation with the Event Advisers, have made good use of the terrain and planned challenging courses.”

I always aim for the podium and the gold medal”

Our interview is almost finished and we talk about the near future. “A realistic goal for this year is to get at least one Championship medal”, Martin considers. And the medal can come in Portugal, in a competition where Martin Fredholm has never climbed onto an individual-results podium: “I always aim at the podium and the gold medal. But achieving this at ETOC is actually harder since the countries can enter twice as many competitors as in the WTOC”, he remarks.

- How do you see Trail Orienteering in the future?

“The media coverage is normally very poor. I can understand this to some degree, since PreO is not an action-filled sport. But TempO is potentially more media-friendly, having some similarities to biathlon and the same possibilities for being a spectator sport. The current poor coverage doesn’t help in promoting TrailO. Despite this, I feel that TrailO is more recognised now as a “real” sport than it was ten years ago. The more people are prepared to try TrailO, for example during the rest day at O-Ringen, the more popular it will get.”

Athletes’ questions and answers

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

And here we have Martin’s answers, starting with the one about training: “It’s hard to train for TrailO, mainly because it takes a lot more work to plan a good TrailO training session than for FootO. So my main way of training is to compete a lot. But to organise and plan our own competitions and make the necessary map corrections are also very good kinds of training.” Finally, the best moment: “It’s hard to pick a single one, since I’ve had many moments that have been very good in slightly different ways and are hard to compare. My two first medals at WTOC, my silver medal in 2004 at the first ever organized WTOC (my Swedish team mates won gold and bronze) and my gold medal in 2006 are definitely part of the list. My four gold medals in the Swedish Championships, especially the two in TempO where I was not the favourite, are also on the list. I also value my three victories in O-Ringen since you have to get good results for five days in a row.”

And the question from Martin Fredholm to Susanna Laurila, Athlete of the Month in May: “With the exception of Cecilia Thomasson we don’t have that many good MTB orienteers in Sweden, or not that many at all for that matter. What should we do to get better and more competitive and also increase the popularity of MTBO in Sweden?”

Text and photo: Joaquim Margarido

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

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