Saturday, November 01, 2014

Tim Robertson: From New Zealand to the top - in two disciplines!

Five weeks after rising to the very top of the podium at the Junior World Orienteering Championships (JWOC) in Bulgaria, Tim Robertson showed once more his hunger for gold by repeating this extraordinary achievement, this time in Poland at the Junior World MTB Orienteering Championships. Two world titles in these particular two disciplines, an unprecedented feat in Orienteering’s history. This and much more: Tim is IOF’s Athlete of November.

Name: Tim Robertson
Country: New Zealand
Discipline: Foot Orienteering / MTB Orienteering
Career highlights: World Orienteering Championships – Mixed Relay 14th (2014), Sprint 33rd (2012); Junior World Orienteering Championships – Sprint 1st (2014), Sprint 3rd (2013); Junior World MTB Orienteering Championships – Middle Distance 1st (2014), Sprint 2nd (2014).
IOF Sprint Orienteering World Ranking position: 77th
IOF MTB Orienteering World Ranking position: 117th

When Tim Robertson was selected for his first JWOC team in Poland, in 2011, his eyes were opened to what orienteering really was. “In New Zealand we don’t have such big competitions, so experiencing JWOC at the age of 15 got me really excited about orienteering”, he recalls. His fine physical and technical skills started to produce good results, but his inclusion in New Zealand’s World Championships Team in 2012, where he reached the Sprint Final in Lausanne, was for him a big surprise. Although he had “a bad run”, in his words, he will remember forever the event’s “incredible atmosphere”! After those two years Tim decided he wanted to keep working on and improving his orienteering. And so the story builds up to his remarkable achievements in 2014.

Tim was born on 5th August 1995 in Lower Hutt, New Zealand, fifteen minutes’ drive from the capital city, Wellington. When he was 10, his sister Laura started orienteering through the school and the whole family followed her: “We got bored of waiting for her while she was out in the forest”, Tim remembers. A problem easy to solve, it would seem: “So my family decided to give it a go and we have all been running ever since!” Running, mountain biking, surfing, hockey, and “just being outside doing things”, are Tim’s hobbies. While he also competes in cross-country and athletics – he actually came from a running background – orienteering is, definitely, his passion.

Four months in Europe

Tim finished school at the end of last year and decided to give himself a break. The reason why? To prepare in the best way possible for the World Orienteering Championships and the Junior World Orienteering Championships. At the beginning of 2014 we could see him working, but four months later he packed clothing and shoes, some maps and a compass and got on the plane. He travelled to Europe in early June to get more opportunities to train on European terrain: “The four months I have spent in Europe have been amazing. I have seen many beautiful places and I have enjoyed spending time with JWOC friends, visiting their countries and training with them”, he says. After all these fantastic experiences, he’s sure about one thing: “I can’t wait to come back to Europe next year and do it all again!”

Tim raced in Jukola, at Tallin O’ Week and then at the World Orienteering Championships, two weeks before JWOC, where he didn’t get the results he was hoping for. So “going into JWOC, I was very keen to have a good result.” Coming over early to prepare for these big competitions was a very important decision, and Tim’s expectations were to be fully confirmed.

Preparation in New Zealand can be difficult”

Tim Robertson doesn’t have a coach, and he sets his own training plan each week depending on his schedule and how he feels physically. “Preparation in New Zealand can be difficult”, he says. Where Tim lives, the closest good forest maps for training are over one hour’s drive away. Since he was then working full-time, he wasn’t able to travel up there very often. Because of this, Tim was only doing specific training for orienteering once a week and it was usually on a Sprint map.

From his training sessions, he got the idea that it was good to mix up what he does, and he tries to go biking once or twice a week. In his opinion, “mountain biking is a great solution for keeping the weight off my legs but still having a good workout.” He was lucky to be able to train with a few local orienteers who were really helpful in setting up night-time training once a week. Apart that, he tried to get to as many orienteering events in New Zealand as possible, but most of his training for JWOC and MTBO was running.

Two gold medals – “a complete surprise”

“To become a double World Champion in two different disciplines has been amazing”, says Tim about his glorious journey. After his third place at JWOC last year, to achieve the gold medal was a major goal this year. Two gold medals, however, was a complete surprise. “To win the mountain biking gold was a great bonus to add to my trip to Europe. After JWOC 2013 in the Czech Republic, I knew it would be possible for me to reach the top of the podium. However in MTBO I had no idea what to expect, as I had only competed in six races in the 2014 Oceania MTBO Championships, which were in New Zealand. My results in those races, and the encouragement from New Zealand MTB Orienteer Rob Garden, made me consider the idea of taking my bike to Poland.”

For the Junior World MTBO Championships Tim only had his bike with him a week before the competition started. He went out on all the training maps to try to prepare himself as best as he could in the short time-frame. He was the only junior from New Zealand competing, so he considered himself “fortunate to be able to join the Australian Mountain Bike team” to stay with during the Championships. “Obviously I was prepared for navigating, but I had not been on a bike for two and a half months so I was not sure how I would go racing. Winning the gold in JWOC Sprint was a goal for me but the gold in MTBO Middle Distance was a complete surprise.”

The ‘easier’ gold to win...

How ‘easy’ can it be to win a World title? This is not a simple question but, with two gold medals on his chest, Tim can say something about which one of them was ‘easier’ to win. “All of my training since last year has been focused toward WOC Sprint and JWOC Sprint. I had no specific preparation for the MTBO races. After my surprising second place in the World MTBO Sprint, I decided to approach the Middle Distance with some more focus because I realised that I could perhaps reach the top of the podium again. And it paid off! The Long Distance race was the toughest of the three races – I felt the pain of not having ridden my bike for two months prior to the event, due to having been focused on Foot orienteering. And also the fact that my bike had to be stored in Finland while I was travelling to seven different countries in the lead up to the World MTBO Championships. In fact the only bike ride I had in the ten weeks prior to Poland was when I hired a mountain bike in Borovets, Bulgaria, and biked the 10 km downhill trail from the top of the chairlift on Mount Musala”, Tim says.

“The JWOC gold was a more emotional win for me; I had put in the work to achieve the gold which made it feel more special. With the mountain biking, while it was an amazing feeling, I hadn’t put much work in so winning felt more unexpected, like a surprise. I feel that it is easier to be consistently strong in MTBO over all disciplines, whereas in foot orienteering to have strong results in Sprint, Middle and Long is very hard”, Tim says.

I consider myself a Foot orienteer”

- Do you feel divided between FootO and MTBO?

“I really love mountain biking, however I consider myself a Foot orienteer. I will think about racing in next year’s competition though. After becoming a junior world champion in two disciplines, I wonder what could happen in my future if I was able to spend more time in Europe training or had the input from an orienteering coach.”

- Why don’t we see many Foot orienteers doing MTB Orienteering?

“I think that, for an orienteer, to try Mountain Bike Orienteering can be a reasonably easy step to make, especially if you have had some experience riding mountain bikes. Although I had not taken part in many MTBO races before the World Championships, I had spent some time when I was younger doing local mountain bike races. On the other hand, a switch from Mountain Bike Orienteering to Foot Orienteering is a lot more difficult. I really enjoyed trying something a bit different this year, and I believe that when you are young it is important to keep your options open and enjoy whatever it is that you are doing.”

The best and the worst

Taking a look at Tim’s career highlights, we can imagine that his best moment until now was running in the Sprint Final in Lausanne at WOC 2012. “Yes, that’s true. The best moment of my career so far would have to be racing in that Sprint Final at the age of 16. The Event Centre and the atmosphere around the whole race was incredible. For me, I had never competed with GPS, so even that was a feeling I was not used to”, Tim says. But he won’t forget his most recent achievements: “Of course, another career highlight would be my two junior world champion titles this year.”

But we all know that life is made of good and less good moments, so it’s natural that Tim has already felt the disappointment of a result not as good as expected: “It is hard to choose one single worst moment in my career so far as there are so many that come to mind. I think the worst two would have to be not making the Sprint Final at WOC for the past two years. With the added pressure of having made it before and knowing that I can do it, the disappointment of not being present in the final has been difficult. But I find these experiences help a lot and I have to remember I have many more years of competing ahead of me.”

Three questions, three answers

- You’re a sprinter but… is Sprint your favourite distance?

“I have been most consistent in the Sprint, however my favourite distance is probably the Middle Distance. I competed in the Middle Distance at WOC in 2013 where I ran my first race on Scandinavian terrain. I was placed 23rd in that race, and although missing the final and not having a very good run I was quite happy with the result. I have the Long Distance in mind for the future. Coming from a running background, I feel this could be a distance I might be strong in – although the step up from JWOC Long to WOC Long is huge, so it will be a few years before that happens. I had a good run this year at the Norwegian Ultra-long Championships, being placed second in the M20 Elite class. I was very happy with this as it was my first run in terrain like that and I was also the first starter.”

- Can you choose the most impressive terrains where you have run?

“We have some amazing terrain in New Zealand! But overseas I think where the Norwegian Ultra-long Champs were held was incredible. Also the 2013 WOC Middle Distance Qualification in Finland.”

- What was the most relevant orienteering achievement in 2014?

“It’s hard to choose an orienteering achievement of the year as there are so many outstanding athletes. My votes would have to go to Søren Bobach and Daniel Hubmann. Their achievements this year have been very impressive.”

Reaching the top of the World can be done from New Zealand”

Still time to talk about orienteering in New Zealand. Tim Robertson says that “it is gaining momentum and numbers are growing. We have a strong group of competitive juniors coming through, and more training is starting to be organised in both small and large groups.” Matt Ogden’s victory at JWOC 2012 made Tim realise that “reaching the top of the World can be done from New Zealand.” He remembers those moments as “very motivational for me”, and he continues: “I hope that now, with my results, as well as those of my training mate Nick Hann and of course our JWOC 2014 Relay Team, that more juniors will be inspired to follow in our footsteps.”

Another subject was the great World Cup experience in New Zealand. Tim remembers those days in early January 2013: “Wellington is my home town and I remember waking up in my own bed before the Sprint Final, and the fact I was racing a World Cup that day didn’t feel real, as I’m so used to travelling long distances to the big races.” He’s sure that “it was great having some top orienteers to race against in our home terrain”, adding that “it would be a great benefit to us if New Zealand was able to hold a Junior World or World Championships event. Since we are so far away from the Europe base of orienteering, we are never likely to have many or compete in many World Cup events, so to gain experience and points / rankings we need to travel to or base ourselves in Europe. So the World Cup rounds in New Zealand 2013 and Tasmania 2014 are very important to the development of our sport Down Under.”

Another great experience

We can see in Tim Robertson’s attitude one of the reasons why he tried another ‘experience’, taking part in the 30th World Mountain Running Championship, at Casette di Massa, Tuscany (Italy), last September. “I decided to try something different this year when I was selected for the New Zealand team. I had only participated in two mountain running races prior to this event, so again I had no idea how it would go, especially when my preparation for mountain running was three and a half months of orienteering, alternating between competition racing for a week and then resting for a week”, explains the athlete.

Those who followed the mountain running course know that it was amazing and really tough; it began in the small Italian village of Casette de Massa and climbed via single track, rocky trails and through a spectacular marble quarry, “Bicina di Giola’. The total ascent was 710 metres over 8.4 kilometres, and the athletes even ran 600 metres inside the mountain through a mine. “It was incredible to compete against such a quality field of runners, including the junior world 3000 metres track champion”, says Tim. And adds: “In the race I didn’t have the start I was hoping for and ended up stuck behind many people in the early technical section, which is my strong point. I managed to pull through some places and finished 32nd”, he concludes.

My dream would be to one day stand on the WOC podium”

The future is now and, for a young and ambitious orienteer like Tim Robertson, the sky is the limit.
“I don’t know what I want to study at university, so I don’t want to spend a lot of money to go when it’s not something I want to do”, he says. In the meanwhile, “until the end of the year I have some smaller competitions in New Zealand. I will be preparing myself for Round 1 of 2015 World Cup races in Tasmania, where I hope to improve on my 20th placing in the World Cup Sprint that I achieved at the World Cup Round 1 in New Zealand in 2013.” The main goals for 2015 are really well structured: “I will be focused around having a strong finish for my final year in JWOC – where I would like to back up my Sprint results and also make an improvement in my Long Distance placing – and also improve my best placings at WOC”, he says.

And Tim’s last words: “My hopes and dreams? Well, my dream would be to one day stand on the WOC podium, but there is a lot to be done between now and then!”

Athletes’ questions and answers

The question from Svetlana Mironova, the Athlete of the Month in October: “Congratulations, Tim! How often do you fly from New Zealand to Europe? How do you “train” the voyage? Can you remember any interesting experiences of orienteering training during the flight?”

And Tim’s answer: “I have been in the JWOC team for four years now and the WOC team for three years, so in the last four years I have escaped the New Zealand winter to travel to Europe and compete in these competitions. It is a long thirty or more hours of travelling and can really take it’s toll on the body. Our New Zealand team usually arrives at the JWOC event two weeks before to get over the jet lag and prepare ourselves for the terrain since we can’t go on any of the training camps that other teams attend. When I am actually on the plane, I set my watch to the time of the country in Europe that I will be going to and then try to sleep and stay awake when possible. Although that is very difficult when they are serving breakfast when it is dinner-time in Europe. It usually takes me three or four days to get my sleeping pattern back to normal. It helps a lot if I go for short runs the first few days after I arrive, even though it feels horrible!”

Finally, the question from Tim Robertson to Hana Hancikova, Athlete of the Month in December: “How do you train for ski orienteering in the summer season?”

Text: Joaquim Margarido
Photo: Ivan Sirakov

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

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