Tuesday, July 29, 2014

SOW 2014: João Moura, a Portuguese in the highest

Last week was lavish in big events throughout Europe, having in Swiss Orienteering Week one of the most relevant and participated. Relevant, because of the courses' technical quality and the stunning natural environment, with the majestic Matterhorn omnipresent. Participated, because the sum of almost five thousand athletes present in Zermatt is something really impressive. Among those “lucky guys” at SOW 2014, we found João Moura, athlete from the Clube de Orientação de Viseu - Natura, one of five Portuguese who headed Switzerland last week. The Portuguese Orienteering Blog talked with him, being now possible to “drink” in his words the amazing atmosphere of a week to remember.

Was it difficult to choose between the O-Ringen and the Swiss Orienteering Week, knowing that both events were held at the same time?

João Moura (J. M.) - They are both events with an excellent reputation, but what seems to be a difficult choice, for me was almost obvious. I didn't even thought about going to the O-Ringen, since this year I had the good fortune of SOW in Zermatt, where I have relatives. And this was really the main reason I came here, because I could combine two very important things to me, family and Orienteering.

What were the expectations about SOW? What do you knew - or thought you knew - about this big event?

J. M. - The information I had on the previous SOW was very limited, I have never followed in detail any of the previous editions, so I was a little bit anxious. Firstly, because I have never ran at such high altitude and I wasn't sure about my body's reaction; and also because I was afraid about the terrains and the organization, eventually very different from our Portuguese events. In tourist terms, I had excellent feedback from my family living in Zermatt and they convinced me that I would really like the region. And that's what happened in the end, it is a place of rare beauty to which I was immensely surprised and passionate.

How was it, to be in the middle of the crowd?

J. M. - Since I left Sá Carneiro Airport, in Porto, until I landed in Geneva and traveled to Zermatt, I felt a true athlete, almost a star. I proudly travelled with my club's official equipment and I put on it some badges with the Portuguese flag. I really felt like I was representing not only my club, but also my country. And this was a feeling that accompanied me throughout my stay in Zermatt. There was approximately 5000 athletes from all over the world, and I didn't felt inferior to belong to one of the nations with fewer participants in this event. And I made sure, at all stages, to bring with me the Portuguese flag on the back of my sweater.

But, basically, the “ritual” is the same as in our Portuguese events, with the difference of being surrounded by thousands of people from different cultures and languages. I also had the luck of stay close to the Portuguese delegation, consisting of four “masters”, despite only knowing Manuel Dias, and shortly after the first day I got to know the other three athletes and just created an empathy and fantastic atmosphere in the group.

Was it difficult to manage your daily routine?

J. M. - In this aspect I had the chance of being with a Portuguese family, which has many advantages. I never felt alone and always had the support of someone who knew the peculiar way how to work the town of Zermatt. More important, my diet didn't varied too much, eating always Portuguese food. In the first day I arrived, I needed to go to the mountain to participate in some controlled events that the organization of the SOW provided to athletes, and try to understand the reaction of my body to the altitude, so during that time I could manage physically and mentally my handicaps. And I really felt the difference in this first contact with the altitude. You quickly lose your breath and you have to be very careful with the hydration. Fortunately, in the early days after my arrival, the weather conditions were quite favourable, but this didn't happen during the event. We could have lots of rain, cold and fog in most of the mountain stages, and some changes in the program because of the weather. At the 3rd stage, I had my debut in terrains with snow - actually I never ran under these conditions -, which affected my performance because, on one hand, the terrain is not so readable and, on the other hand, I clearly ran like a snail, always afraid of sliding, while the remaining athletes ran over the snow almost normally.

In organizational terms, I believe that they were prepared to continue as scheduled under any weather conditions, although usually in Portugal, when it rains, the organizations are concerned enough about the well-being of the athletes and in these cases provides an entire logistics so that, for example, you can store the belongings in a dry place, which didn't happen here in Switzerland. I even asked a member of the organization about tents in arenas where we could store our backpacks, and he replied that this was a problem of the athlete, and not a problem of the organization. These answers, normally, do not exist in Portugal.

How do you analyse your performance, competitively speaking? Was it positive?

J. M. - Yes, I think it was positive. I was 18th ranked between 125 athletes in my class, HB. I had the misfortune to injure myself, two weeks before to fly to Switzerland, with a plantar fasciitis, which caused me great discomfort and pain during the competition. But, of course, I'm aware that I'm not an elite athlete and that I was competing in a “lower” class than that I run in Portugal (H21A). Technically, there was a couple of challenging controls, but now I think that I should entry in HAK class, more technical than HB.

And what about the "social" part? Judging by the “selfies” with some of the world's best athletes, we can imagine that was really fun...

J. M. - Yes, this is true! Maybe it was because the Swiss athletes were running at “home”, but the truth is that all top athletes with whom I had the privilege of talk were very kind and most thought I was joking when I asked to take the famous “selfie” with them. But this opportunity to talk and take photos with most of my orienteering references (both male and female), it was a great feeling and that makes me even more motivated to continue to train and develop the sport in Portugal.

Have you a funny episode to tell us?

J. M. – Actually, I have two funny episodes involving the Hubmann brothers. On the first day of competition (urban Sprint in Zermatt, only for elite classes), I found Daniel Hubmann in the arena and, of course, I asked if I could take a picture with him, to which he replies very serious, in English: “Sure, but it is 5 euro”. I was shocked for a moment, because I only knew the “serious” side of the athlete, and I replied: “I already knew that everything is very expensive in Switzerland, but, at least, you asked me Euros and not Swiss Francs”. And, obviously, I took a picture with him and even laughed a little. The other situation occurred on the last day, during the prize giving ceremony. I went to Martin Hubmann asking for an autograph in my bib and he was drinking a large glass of a liquid that seemed like beer. Obviously, I asked about the drink and he explained to me that it was not beer but a traditional swiss juice, unknown to me. I told him that I had never tasted, to which he replied that I shouldn't leave Switzerland without tasting it. And he gave me from his glass to taste. I felt really well in a great atmosphere, which I usually don't feel when these athletes came to our events.

Being at the “heart” of some of the major organizations in Portugal in the last three years, namely the POM 2012 and the MCO 2014, you certainly looked to SOW 2014 with different eyes? Are there some aspects you experienced and that would be worth to bring to our organizations?

J. M. - The Swiss are, by nature, people with a higher organizational capacity and this event was no exception. There are, actually, a different reality here, and although things are done well both in Portugal and Switzerland, we can see that the way how the work is organized and jobs are distributed is different. However, I also note that the Portuguese organizations are more able to solve minor incidents that deviate from the original “plan”. In my opinion, perhaps the biggest difference is the number of volunteers working at the event, which allows to have, for example, elements of the organization in almost all the access points to the mountain, guiding the athletes. But, what surprised me the most, was the final bulletin of the event. It was a book with over 100 pages, which explained everything, even the smallest detail, such as: the scheme of stages, the time it would take to get to events, whether or not there would be water in the courses, whether it was advisable to bring a jacket, etc.

I think that would be great to import to Portugal this newsletter template / book with all the necessary information. I also mind some notion of the organization itself, because in Portugal we need to take advantage of the few human resources we possess, something that I noticed that work very well in Switzerland. Each volunteer has an identification with the function, and a portable radio to communicate on the network and transmit / receive information. Finally, and given my professional background, one of the things we have to urgently import for our events is the planning and management in emergency. Each stage of the SOW had several aid stations around the map and there was always a helicopter ready for any evacuation and some adapted vehicles to conditions of high mountain, not to rely on the medical centre set up in the arena. Of course we talk about different realities, but we can always learn how to reach the organizational excellence, in a sustainable way, in our Portuguese events.

For those who haven't yet decided for a Summer competition in Europe in the coming years, which arguments would you advance for being at next SOW, in 2016?

J. M. - In 2016, the SOW will be organized in Engadin St. Moritz and, if the quality of terrains and the organization were similar, this is an event to be taken into account and that I highly recommend. Honestly, this SOW 2014 was the best event I ever have attended, and I am only sorry for not bringing my athletes from COV - Natura to participate with me. But all this time lived here, the atmosphere, the organizational quality, the attention to detail, make of this an event unique.

And what about you, João? Will you remain faithful to the SOW and continue heading to Switzerland for a week, every two years?

J. M. - Unfortunately, go to the SOW demands a very significant amount of money and there is a big difference between the Portuguese economic reality and the Swiss economic reality. The prices are too high here, in most of the basic items, for the Portuguese common. I just had the chance to come this year, to have the facility in terms of accommodation and food provided for my family living in Zermatt. Hence, I may not be able to compete again, soon, at an event in Switzerland like these. With my very sorry, of course!

To know in detail the day by day of João Moura at Zermatt and his experience in Swiss Orienteering Week 2014, please visit his personal webpage at http://joao-moura.blogspot.pt.

[Photo: Courtesy of João Moura]

Joaquim Margarido

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