Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Søren Bobach, IOF's Athlete of the Month: Drawing route choices the key to success?

Our Athlete of July is aiming to get a medal in Italy, in Sprint relay. Because of previous years’ injuries, Søren Bobach has decided to focus mainly on Sprint this year, to slowly make his way back. Quite surprisingly, he trains for Sprint by drawing: “The most important preparation has been our Monday evenings here in Aarhus. For some time we have taken turns to find difficult Sprints, and then we have a competition to see who can draw the best route fastest. We do this to teach ourselves how to see the best route choice quickly. This will be very important for the races in Venice and Trento this summer”.

Name: Søren Bobach
Country: Denmark
Born: 25th April 1989
Discipline: Foot Orienteering
Career highlights: Junior World Championships (JWOC) gold at Middle distance in 2006, plus 1 silver and 3 bronze medals from JWOC, 9th in Sprint at the World Championships (WOC) in 2012, member of Danish Relay team in 6th place, also WOC 2012
IOF World Ranking position: 28th in Sprint list

Søren Bobach became a junior World Champion when he was only 17 years old. Five years later he enjoyed one of his big sporting highlights – without taking part! Now he is ready to run in three distances at WOC in Italy.

Søren grew up in an orienteering family in Virklund in Denmark. “I have been so fortunate to grow up in Virklund, which is five km south of Silkeborg”, he says. “This meant that I had just five minutes running to Silkeborg Vesterskov and ten minutes running to both Silkeborg Østerskov and to Silkeborg Sønderskov, which stretches all the way to ‘Himmelbjerget’. So I had a lot of forest close around me. Most of the terrain is very hilly and tough, so I have had a lot of good training hours out there”, he says. Himmelbjerget is one of the biggest hills in Denmark,147 metres above sea level. The WOC 2006 Relay was organised close by.

Many years an orienteer

The Dane doesn’t really know when he started orienteering. “Because my parents were elite orienteers, I have been going to orienteering events my whole life. I actually can’t remember when I ran my first orienteering event by myself, but I must have been something like seven years old. Some of the earliest races I can remember are from the H10 class, the youngest in Denmark, where I both experienced some really great races and sometimes got completely lost. I also remember my first Danish Championship (DM), where I had to run an older class because H10 wasn’t a part of DM at that time. I think I was sixth, which was great since I wasn’t that far behind my older brother and those two years older than me”.

Mother and father both in Danish team

His mother Dorthe Hansen was in the Danish team that took the bronze medal in the WOC Relay in Hungary in 1983. Father Erik Bobach has also done very well. Both have good results from WOC individual races, but a bit away from the medals.

Søren’s best WOC result so far is ninth place, but at junior level he has been at the very top. In 2006, just 17 years and a couple of months old, he shared the gold on the Middle distance with Jan Benes from the Czech Republic. “This is like a dream! Before the championships, my goal was to be among the 20 best on the Middle”, said Søren after the victory eight years ago. Søren had the mental strength to take it a bit calm sometimes, and also stop if that was smart. He was the first Danish gold winner in the men’s class at JWOC.

– How was it to become a JWOC champion, and what has it meant for you?

“It was of course huge! It was my first JWOC and I hadn’t had any prior competitions against all of those foreign runners. On our test races I was clearly the best, so I knew that I could run fast but I didn’t have a clue that I was so good. It was so surreal when the commentator announced that I was the new Junior World Champion. But with things like this there always comes a difficult time later. I naturally got high expectations of myself in every race I ran from there on, and it resulted in some big disappointments where I really doubted if I was good enough. There was a really tough period in the winter 2006/07 and also at JWOC in 2007 where I should try to defend my previous results. Mentally I didn’t manage the pressure I put upon myself. As the saying goes: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”; I think I have come out stronger after these tough periods and I’m better able to handle the pressure I put on myself”.

Success also for brother and sister

Three Bobachs took part in JWOC in 2006 – Ida, Søren and Christian. At the start of the championships they were just 14, 17 and 19 years old. Ida’s 15th birthday was on the second day of JWOC. “We have got the knowledge from our parents”, Søren said in Lithuania in 2006. “Our parents have taken us to orienteering races since we have been very small”, Ida said eight years ago.

Since the races in the Baltic in 2006, Christian has become a good senior. Ida and Søren have both managed to take the step up to the very best. As a junior, Ida got seven golds at JWOC, and holds the record for gold medals at these championships.

– How is it that the Bobachs do so well?

“I think most of the credit has to go to our parents”, says Søren. “I think we have got some good orienteering genes, and as children we always went to orienteering events throughout Europe in the summer. So from an early age we had tried to orienteer in many different types of terrain, and I think this has developed our orienteering skills and made us very adaptable to new terrain types. I would say that we all have our strength in our technique and that can bring you a long way. We have never experienced any pressure from our parents to become elite orienteers, so our drive is purely because we love this sport and want to excel at it”.

Sport full-time from now on

Besides sport, Søren is currently taking a bachelor degree course in Physics. It was originally planned that he should have finished it this summer. That would have meant that he would have used four years instead of the normal three, but because there have been so many activities this spring he hasn’t managed to finish his final project so far.

He will finish it in the autumn. He had his last exam in June and only has his final project left to do. In the first year of his bachelor course he studied full-time, and then the last two years he has spread over three years.

– How is it to be a top athlete in orienteering in Denmark?

“Here in Aarhus we have a very good training environment where you can develop. Most of the national team lives in Aarhus, which means that we know each other very well and we can push each other in every training session. We are used to each other’s company, and I think that gives us an advantage when we are away. The down side is that we don’t have so many really difficult and demanding terrains. Even though we can drive to some really interesting coastal terrains, we have been there so many times that it is not the same any more. Also orienteering is a small sport in Denmark so it doesn’t get so much attention from the media. That means it is difficult to find sponsors to live as a professional”.

– What’s the plan for your future in sport and studies?

“I’m kind of tired of studying and I want to see where I can take my orienteering, so the plan is to take a break until at least WOC 2016. I would like to live as a pro, so I’m currently trying to find some sponsors who can help me with this dream. If this doesn’t work I will have to find a part-time job. In the future I guess I’ll work towards a Master’s degree in Physics”.

Søren’s Norwegian Club

In 2008 Søren started to run for Halden. He is in the Norwegian town normally for a couple of weeks each year. In Halden dress he is getting good experience from big occasions. “It gives me a chance to learn from some of the best orienteers in the world, and it gives me a chance to fight at the top in Tiomila and Jukola. I think that these big relays have taught me to cope better with pressure and stress. I remember the first time I ran in the first team in 10mila. I was so nervous and ended up making mistakes, and I lost 2min and ruined our chance of winning. The year after, I was more confident and I ran a very good ninth leg”. WOC 2016 will be in a part of Sweden only a short distance from Halden.

A new team of successful Danes

In the last year, the Danes have achieved a lot of big results. At the European Championships this year, Signe Søes won the Middle distance final and that was a new individual triumph. “Signe Søes’ gold has given us another confirmation that it is possible to live in Denmark and become one of the best orienteers in the world. It is of course always nice to see a Dane win a medal, and especially Signe who has fought so many years for this. When I was younger, she was one of the seniors who showed us the way to the top of orienteering again, after the generation with Chris Terkelsen, Allan Mogensen and Carsten Jørgensen”.

– What is your goal for the future – how far are you looking forward?

“My dream is to win an individual gold medal. This year I hope to get a medal in the Mixed Sprint Relay and then work my way up the list on the other distances. I don’t have a deadline or anything for my orienteering career, so I just take it as it comes. But at the moment WOC 2016 looks very exciting. I know it will be a very tough championship to take a medal in; I really look forward to the challenge!”

The coming Championships

Søren is running Sprint, Sprint Relay and Relay at this year’s World Championships. Because of previous years’ injuries he has decided to focus mainly on Sprint this year, to slowly make his way back.

“So I have focused a lot on Sprint in my preparations, where I have run many difficult Sprints. But the most important preparation has been our Monday evenings here in Aarhus. For some time we have taken turns to find difficult Sprints, and then we have a competition to see who can draw the best route fastest. We do this to teach ourselves how to see the best route choice quickly. This will be very important for the races in Venice and Trento this summer”.

– How do you like the terrain in Italy?

“I really like the terrain in Italy, both the sprint and the forest terrain. The sprints can be very tricky, with narrow streets and a lot of direction changes. So you really have to be careful in your map reading while running at full speed. I would really have loved to run the Middle distance because I think it could have suited me well. It is very demanding both technically and physically. Maybe the stony ground isn’t the best for me, but I’m pretty sure that I have what it takes to run a great leg on the Relay”.

– What will be your main focus in Italy?

“The Sprint is the only individual race I’m doing, so that will of course get a lot of focus. My physical shape is good and I think I have a good chance to make a top result. But the Sprint Relay is also very important because we have such a great team. All year we have shown that if we have 4 good races we can win in Italy. So our hopes are high, and we have all prepared well for sprint orienteering. I love to run relays, so I’m of course very excited about the forest relay as well. I think we have a strong team and hopefully we will be in the fight for a top place. I believe we have the qualities to achieve that”.

Søren’s best moments

Before the coming WOC, the Dane has enjoyed many big highlights, and some of them were even when he wasn’t taking part himself.

“One of my best moments was at WOC 2011 in France. I unfortunately got injured and had to give up running the day before the championships started. But I was there with the team and got to see my sister take an incredible silver medal on the Middle distance, whilst still a junior. She is so cool in that kind of terrain. There are not many who can orienteer like her in such demanding terrain, and it was so nice to see her doing it on the biggest scene in orienteering. That was a proud moment for me. Another big moment was to be a part of the WOC 2006 in Denmark. I got to run the courses and follow the big stars closely and it was the first time I experienced a WOC”.

– What has been your best race so far?

“I like terrain where you have to have a high level of competence in map reading and where the runnability is mostly good. I can’t think of a specific terrain that is my favourite, and I don’t really know which has been my best race. But some good candidates would be JWOC 2006 Middle distance, JWOC 2008 Long, JWOC 2009 Long, Tiomila 2012 ninth leg, and WOC 2012 Relay first leg. These are all races where I ran well – maybe not perfectly but I handled the pressure very well”.

Søren has had a very good year so far with some encouraging performances – they augur well for a best-ever result in Italy.

Athletes’ questions

Our IOF Athlete of June, Catherine Taylor, asked Søren: Just now, there are the last preparations for WOC in Italy. It always feels important to get these right, but are there any times you remember where the final preparation has gone badly for an important race, with problems with training, transport or anything else to deal with just before the competition? How did you manage these and how did the competition go in the end?

Søren answers: “Thanks for the question. It has gone bad for me many times. The time I remember best was before JWOC in 2007 were I twisted my ancle badly on the model event the day before it all started. I had really high hopes before this championship and I was kind of angry with myself for doing this because I normally don’t have problems like this. It was difficult to say how bad it was and whether I could run. I think I was able to just accept that it had happened and that we have to take it day by day.

The day after we had the sprint and it was during my warm-up that I decided that I could run with the pain. It of course affected me during the competitions because the terrain was very stony in Australia so it got to much attention on the sprint, long and middle qualification. It was a terrible championship for me where I made many mistakes because of too high hopes. I wouldn’t say that my injury was the source to my bad orienteering and I felt that I didn’t think about it in the two last competitions.

Another time which probably is the worst of my injuries before a big championship was in 2008. I had really trained hard for this JWOC in Göteborg and was so motivated that when I got the news that I had a stress fracture in my leg one week before JWOC I was so devastated. I thought that my JWOC was over before it even began. I should probably have know for a month because I had run with serious pain for a long time. But after a day of thinking I got myself motivated to du some alternative training so I could be in the best possible shape under these conditions. I was prepared that it might hurt as hell to run the JWOC but I also said to myself that I wouldn’t let it affect my orienteering. Surprisingly when I arrived at JWOC the pain was gone and I could focus on the job.

I have a few more times I have done stuff like this so I guess I have thougt myself to let it go when it happens because there is nothing you can do about it when it has happened. You just throw away a lot of energy when you get frustrated thinking about how it would be if you hadn’t done it or how it will affect you. I think the best thing to do is to realize that the situation might be different or maybe not and then start working from there. I try to focus on how I should run my race and just look forward.”

IOF Athlete of August will be trail orienteer Martin Jullum, Norway. Søren’s question to him is: What was the most difficult thing to give up in foot orienteering when you started trail orienteering instead? We will find out Martin’s answer to this and many more questions in the beginning of August!

Text and photo: Erik Borg

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

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