It is not the first time that you choose Portugal as part of your winter preparation. Why Portugal?
Léa Vercellotti (L. V.) - Actually, it's not the first time I am in Portugal. I have attended the Portugal O' Meeting several times, also in many stages, either with the French national team, either with my Norwegian club, Halden SK, and even alone. I love to train in Portugal.
L. V. - Because the terrains are excellent, because in January and February there are not too many countries with such good terrains and without snow and because the competitions are really good. The Portugal O' Meeting, for example, it has never left me disappointed. The terrains are always very interesting and the organizational level is the best we can find.
And again, you will participate this year in Portugal O 'Meeting.
L. V. - Yes, it's a real “rendez-vous” in the beginning of each season. There is a great competition and is always an important moment to establish some comparisons and realize the progress made so far.
How far can you launch these comparisons that you talk? At six months to the World Championships, for example, the POM can provide information on what will happen?
L. V. - Well, comparisons are always interesting. It puts on us some pressure and this is positive. Of course, at this moment of the season, a certain result in the POM will not allow anyone to say that things will pass this or that way in the World Championships. This is important, mainly, to validate what was done, what is our moment from a technical point of view and to realize that the decisions taken about the training were the best and the results start to appear. As to compare with other athletes in NAOM or POM, in terms of results, it works only as a small bonus.
Your second place in the WRE Sprint was one of those small bonuses?
L. V. - (laughs) It's always good to get a second place, but what interests me, truly, is my performance. And I'm not really satisfied. Fortunately there are still six months to the World Championships and there is plenty of time to improve, but mistakes like these cannot be done, especially in terms of defining the controls. It is true that I felt a little tired after the morning stage, but that's no excuse. There are actually some things to work on and this is positive. That's what I like about Orienteering, see where we are and, focusing our attention on it and working to change things.
How did you start in Orienteering?
L. V. - It was in 2003, at School. I was faced with the need to choose a sport more “radical” and I ended up choosing Orienteering. The truth is that the first time I participated in a school competition, I won and it may have been important (laughs). My older sister was already an orienteer in a local club and I ended up also signing up for the club. Today I know that this was the best option. Orienteering is a wonderful sport, takes us to discover absolutely fantastic terrains and amazing landscapes, allows children and older people to compete side by side and it is not just running, there is the mental part, it's mostly to know how to choose the best way. It also allows, after the race, to analyse a big number of situations, finally, there is so much to do in Orienteering, so many aspects that can be worked on and that's what makes it fantastic.
However, things have evolved a lot and the results too. Can you elect your best course ever?
L. V. - The course that most impressed me was the World Championships Relay 2012, in Switzerland, having made team with Amélie Chataing and Céline Dodin and achieved the 7th place. I guess I never felt so happy in my life. It was the first time I ran with them and the pressure was enormous but Amélie and Céline were amazing and got me to concentrate on what was important and on my race. For me it was a victory. There is also the 12th place in a stage of the World Cup in Finland last year. I think I did a normal race... the 12th place was a surprise.
What are the best terrains you've run in so far?
L. V. - My experience is still short and there are not many terrains where I have run, but I really like the Scandinavian terrains. I was already in Halden for a year and I love the terrains there. There are also the terrains of the most recent editions of Tiomila, although being different from year to year, but always impress me a lot. I love some parts of Switzerland and of course, the terrains in Portugal and the landscape itself, very green, very beautiful. There are also some interesting terrains in France. I love Fontainebleau and Clermont-Ferrand but specially the Jura. Unfortunately, on the opposite side, are the terrains of my homeland, Besançon, which aren't too friendly to run, really rough because of the vegetation.
Is there anyone in Orienteering that you see as a model, a reference?
L. V. - Eva Jurenikova is a model to me. She is a very committed person and I'm impressed with her expertise and analysis. I also value a lot what Simone Niggli achieved and for being the person she is, with a family and three children. I know that there are other orienteers who also have children and compete at the highest level, but what Simone has achieved is truly remarkable. And then there's Thierry Gueorgiou, a model for the world and, in particular, a real driving force for the team of France. He is our inspiration!
So, what does Simone have that Léa doesn't?
L. V. - (laughs) In our sport there is a very important aspect that has to do with the mental part and I can't say, personally, that this is my strongest point. But there is also the question of the availability in terms of time, something that I still have difficulty to manage, to combine Orienteering with my studies. I think that Simone had the availability and the time to train properly and to compete at the highest level, also thanks to her sponsors. And that makes all the difference. If I had only to worry about the training and the competition, if it were only for Orienteering, I'm sure that I could get much further.
What are your main goals in Orienteering?
L. V. - Well, the goal is always to finish a course - this is important! (laughs) -, quietly, and having fun. As a result, I try not to think too much about it. I know that setting a goal in terms of results is putting too much pressure on me and I don't do that. If I am aware that I had a good race, the result is not important. In the Sprint Final of the European Championships last year in Portugal, I finished in the 28th place. My shape was not good, I felt very tired, but I didn't make mistakes and I was very happy with the result. Anyway, we can not achieve the best result and still feel very satisfied or, on the contrary, achieving a superb result and feeling disappointed.
What are your goals for the season?
L. V. - A major goal will be to manage the mental part. I know I can do very interesting things, because I train the physical part a lot and technically I begin to understand a number of small things. But the mental part needs to be tuned. There are moments when I do very good races and others where that is not the case. Got to do a better management of the mental part, that's what I need to improve.
And the World Championships?
L. V. - The World Championships are very important but they are not the only thing during the whole season. There is a long way to go and I see the World Championships as a step more in that way. There is a lot of intermediate steps that you must validate.
How long are we going to see you doing Orienteering?
L. V. - I start to worry about it. Time flies... (laughs) But Orienteering is one of the most important things in my life and I don't want to stop doing it.
Finally, a wish to all orienteers in the beginning of a new season.
L. V. - Don't forget to enjoy the forest. This is the most important thing and therein lies the beauty of our sport.