Thursday, February 19, 2015

WTOC 2015: Terms of Endearment



They were born in different countries, at 1000 km distance from each other, and they followed separate careers. But fate wanted them together, and this was possible thanks to Orienteering. Married, with a child, Damir and Ivana Gobec are more involved than ever in their sport. Prominent figures in the organising committee of the 2015 World Trail Orienteering Championships, they tell us how much the event is demanding from them.

Written by Joaquim Margarido
Photo by Joaquim Margarido


Damir Gobec 
Graduated from Faculty of Kinesiology (Zagreb)

Born in 1972 in Niederbipp, Switzerland
IOF FootO Event Adviser, IOF TrailO Event Adviser
International Professional Alpine Skiing teacher (ISIA Card License)
Couple of times National Champion in FootO and once in TrailO

Ivana Gobec
Born in 1973 in Zagreb, Croatia
Graduated from Faculty of Architecture (Zagreb)
IOF FootO Event Adviser, IOF TrailO Event Adviser International
Alpine Skiing teacher (IVSI Licence)
The only one being National Champion in FootO and TrailO in the same year

Married in 2002, one son: Jan Gobec (12 y.o.)


Damir was born in Switzerland in the early1970s. His parents were deeply involved in orienteering in Croatia, and he followed in their footsteps. Ivana was in sport as a gymnast first, and as a long distance runner later. Until the age of 22 she didn’t have any connections with Orienteering. Then, one beautiful day, she was running down the mountain when a man put a flyer in her hands with a proposal about joining an orienteering club. She was curious. Together with his brother, Damir founded this club, OK Vihor, in 1985 and since then he has hardly missed an event in Croatia.

After her first experiences and with the precious help of her former club, Runolist, Ivana was soon integrated into the National Military Team, (by Damir’s brother, Karlo), not because she was a great orienteer, but because she was fast.

“Yes, we met each other at some of the orienteering events”, says Damir, answering the obvious question. He explains: “As I was team leader of the Military CISM team at that time and she was a team member, we started talking more often, training together, organising events together.”

Ivana confirms, but adds a little gossip: “The funny thing is that we still don’t agree about when we first met. I remember that we organised the first Sprint FootO events, when Sprint still wasn’t official. I was doing the same kind of things in Runolist that Damir was doing in Vihor, and we didn’t always agree with each other (same as now). I became suspicious of him when he started spending more time at my club than at his.”


TrailO: A motivational shock

Trail orienteering is another story. In 2004, the Croatian Orienteering Team was represented at the very first World Trail Orienteering Championships (WTOC) in Sweden by only one participant. In 2005, Damir and Ivana went to Japan and tried the WTOC course for spectators. They solved the tasks separately but, joined together, their correct answers hardly reached half of the total number. That came as a motivational shock for them: “We thought we knew everything about orienteering, yet a whole new universe was opened up to us”, Damir and Ivana admit. Together with friends from their clubs, it took three more years to get things going. It was in 2008 that Croatia first had a full team to participate in WTOC.

In 2008, in the Czech Republic, a funny episode happened, something that still remains at the back of our minds as a mark of Croatia ‘s TrailO Team. Damir Gobec tells us how it was: “The first contact with the TrailO community was on the day of our arrival. At dinner we met the British team. We were too noisy and wearing whitered squared T-shirts. They were looking at us with curiosity. After a short while one of them said: ‘Croatia! We don’t know anything about you.’ And a guy from our team instantly replied, with a grin: ‘In three days you will know something.’ On the last day, Zdenko Horjan won the first-ever IOF medal for Croatia. Since then, Croatia has won at least one medal in every WTOC competition. It is a nice tradition which we will try to keep going for as long as possible.”


Until one beautiful day …

We all know how orienteers are when they have an idea. Damir and Ivana are no different, and they didn’t rest until they put it into practice. Everything began with a simple question, maybe like this: What if we applied to organise the 2015 World Trail Orienteering Championships, here in Croatia? Damir Gobec leaves some clues: “It is hard to define the exact moment when the idea came to our minds, but we were preparing the application for the South East European Championships in foot orienteering. We had already made a presentation in Moldova during the annual meeting, when we heard the news that Great Britain would not organise the TrailO Championships in 2015. At that time we prepared some documents for the Turkish delegation, so they made the application with our help. We even gave some lectures at their University, in Izmir, but the plan unfortunately didn’t work.”

The point was: Did Croatia have enough people for the major tasks? Damir, again: “We knew that we had the knowledge, and we were ready to seek more volunteers. Our main question was, would we be able to organise it in Croatia due to the lack of financing and time. A very big issue was that a lot of time had passed, nobody had applied and there were only two years left for the preparation of WTOC instead of four.” Suddenly, Damir started to put everything on paper and at OK Vihor’s meeting they decided to go for it with what they had, meaning older maps and used terrains. Owe Fredholm gave his word of support, and after a while they got the support from the Croatian Orienteering Federation.

But things then developed in a different way. So, what was changed from the original idea? “An ordinary trailO competition wasn’t what we wanted any more. Zdenko wanted new terrain and original ideas. Ivana didn’t like the quality of the old maps (some being her own). Suddenly there came the opportunity to use Lidar data for the first time around Zagreb. There was a bunch of new factors”, Damir concludes.


What will WTOC 2015 be like?

“On the technical side we will have brand new maps, partially unusual terrain, an excellent course planner, respected IOF Advisers and a large number of enthusiasts, coming not only from the orienteering world.

We hope to introduce some new features, for example we will try to make a special ceremony in Karlovac for all competitors who qualify for the TempO Finals. We will have the public watching the finish at the TempO Finals. We will also provide open events on the same courses as for WTOC. There will be a FootO Sprint event for the Croatian Cup at Karlovac organised by a supporting club, OC Jelen, and we will try to provide a ‘sprint’ course for visitors and wheelchair users focused on sightseeing in Karlovac. Prior to WTOC there will be a round of the unofficial European Cup for TrailO (ECTO) organized by the supporting club OC Medimurje in the neighbouring area Varaždin.

But we really hope that the atmosphere will make the difference from past WTOCs, with the focus of the whole community being on TrailO. We know that IOF policy is to have joined FootO and TrailO Championships, but on many occasions we have had a really bad experience, being put to one side and behind the scenes. On some occasions, medals have been presented in a non-appropriate way. We will finally have the time to properly acclaim the winners of the TrailO competitions.”

Damir Gobec



The Gobecs

But if the challenge within the club OK Vihor, even with the stated wariness, was tacitly accepted, how have things been in this much more closed and constrained core, the Gobec family? Damir is the first to answer: “We talked a lot about it, and I have to admit that without Ivana this event wouldn’t happen. Her will to make all the maps at her highest quality level gives us the energy we needed to go further. Of course we have had some hard times when everything hasn’t gone as we planned and where there’s been no line between private life, professional work and work in the club. It’s not easy to manage it all together.”

Ivana also had something to say about it: “No, it wasn’t hard to convince me to start because I love it. It was harder to find a way to do everything, because I don’t make my living by map-making. At the moment the economy in Croatia is suffering and there is a lack of jobs, so my flexible boss has let me go away for a while.”

“It will be challenging for my husband to convince me to work all the time at this level. At the beginning we didn’t plan so many brand new maps; these now include three for Pre-WTOC events, one extra area because of the storm, and one extra for back-up. I am also surprised that we didn’t have to coerce any controllers into doing the job; both being mapmakers, Vladimir Tkalec and Tomislav Kaniški responded immediately before we started searching, and both Vibeke Vogelius and Lauri Kontkanen (Senior Event Adviser and Assistant Senior Event Adviser respectively) wanted to be here.”


A “prominent vegetation feature”

Who is the most involved one of you two?

Damir Gobec: “At the moment we can say that Ivana is spending the greatest time in the terrain with map-making, sometimes assisted by me and IT support from the club, and followed by Zdenko’s sharp eye and high expectations. My work is mostly based on a lot of writing, lots of phone calls and meetings. We are working almost 100% on these Championships. I am looking forward for some time after WTOC, doing some other things which do not involve full-time orienteering stuff.”

Do you have any idea how many hours a day you spend on organising work?

Damir Gobec: “We do not count at all! Time varies depending on the type of work we do, but there are many days with 18 hours working.”

Ivana Gobec: “I can say I get up, live and go to sleep with maps, squeezing all the other aspects of my life in between. But it doesn’t only affect me. Last year I was driving my son somewhere when he jumped from the back seat screaming: ‘Look, mum, there’s a ‘prominent vegetation feature*’! It was a huge tree with a crooked tree-top.” (*exact terminology for ISSOM symbol no. 402)


Are there any international companies interested in supporting us?”

So far, the organisers of WTOC 2015 have received the solidarity and support of almost all Croatian clubs, in the form of an important volunteer “army”, something really good for Orienteering in Croatia. The WTOC organisers have also got support from the mayors of Zagreb and Karlovac, and some local institutions like Sports Associations, tourist boards, Croatian Forests... but unfortunately the economic crisis is getting bigger and bigger, and the fight continues. “Are there any international companies interested in supporting us?” asks Damir with a big smile.

The WTOC 2015 organising team has also had good feedback from the national controllers and from the IOF Event Advisers, and are ready to guarantee high standards in terms of technical challenge. Ivana has drawn the maps the same way she would like to have them as a competitor in a big international event. Almost everything is based on Lidar data and the survey is done for the entire terrain, not only around the tasks. Zdenko Horjan has already done his work on the controls and Damir talks about a set of tasks “both demanding and challenging”.


A pearl named Divjaca

We asked Ivana, as map-maker, to describe the terrain. And she doesn’t avoid the question: “When the final decision had to be made, although we are from Zagreb, we had only considered the city of Karlovac. We were sure that this beautiful little town near Zagreb would be perfect for what we needed. The mixture of parks, historic urban labyrinth, arboretum and river banks make for some very lively scenery.” Also the new private golf resort deserves her comments: “It is a completely closed terrain, with large lakes and chaotic hills around - something seen before, but also something that experienced orienteers ‘love to hate’. It is very challenging. We heard a couple of ‘Wow’s’ from our advisers and national controllers when they first visited the place.”

But there’s a third terrain, a special one, called Divjaca: “Although the golf terrain is huge, Zdenko didn’t want to have all the competitions look the same. So Damir and I went around seeking for something better than we had. We looked at more than ten different areas and didn’t succeed. Something was always missing. Lack of details, or too trivial views, or bad paths, or no facilities... We started to get desperate and almost returned to the ‘old’ terrain”. And then, the miracle happened (see story apart). “If there’s something different from what trailO competitors have ever seen before, it is Divjaca - with its continental forest, a terrain which will require some real map reading”, Ivana guarantees.


“The main goal for Croatia is to make TrailO visible and more popular”

What are your expectations, seeing the nations and the names that have entered up to now?

Damir Gobec - “At the moment we have 23 nations which have entered, including all the strongest teams. WTOC is a competition which can also give us some new names and we hope that it will be like that. In the teams there are a lot of past World Champions, so it will be hard to get or defend the title. In my opinion, a few things can decide the Champion, so it will be interesting to follow the event. Marit, Martin, Krešo, Jana, Ola, Stig, Lennart, Pinja, Jari, Anna ... a lot of well-known names who will have to give their best to beat the rest”.

What about Croatia? To play in your home country, could it be a positive factor in getting an individual title, or keeping the gold in the Team Competition?

Damir Gobec - “The good thing is that our team won the gold medal last year, so if they take a medal again, there wouldn’t be any talking behind the back. Then again, the focus of the public will be on them and they will be under some pressure. Although some of the ‘usual’ team members will be organising the Event, they are still just as strong a team. In my opinion, this year the main goal for Croatia is to make TrailO visible and more popular and if medals come again, that is just a big plus. We would of course like to see someone on the podium.”


The social side of WTOC

The WTOC is the biggest TrailO competition every year but, as always, it’s not just a competition. So we’ve tried to pick up some of the “must-dos” for those who will visit Karlovac and Zagreb in June. Damir Gobec takes us on a little journey, starting at Karlovac: “It is a very charming and peaceful city, situated around four rivers. If the weather is fine you will have the opportunity to go for a swim just beside the competition area! We love special pancakes there, so don’t miss them.”

As for Zagreb, Damir considers that “it is hard to pick just one attraction”. His recommendation goes to “the city centre and Tkalciceva Street in the evening.” There is also a recommendation to always eat local food instead of any fast-food. “If you manage to stay hungry in Croatia, then you are doing something wrong, because the food is delicious and there is a great variety of affordable local places to eat in. It is also possible to choose from numerous coffee shops at any time of the day”, Damir says. Given that Croatian Mediterranean food is pronounced nonmaterial world heritage protected by UNESCO, Damir’s advice is certainly good to follow. Cheers!


An “extremely positive” experience so far

The preparation work seems to be a “never ending story” but the experience, in personal terms, is proving extremely positive. Looking back, Damir and Ivana can still recall the “big project” which was the book they wrote about Orienteering. They also did a lot of map-making for local events, organised many orienteering events, gave regular lectures on different topics to all who were interested in orienteering, worked with kids, schools, universities… But nothing compares to the extent of involvement in organising the WTOC: “We have learnt a lot about ourselves and about organising, and many doors have opened. Every day we are meeting lots of people who otherwise we wouldn’t get to know, so it’s a huge experience in our lives”, Damir says.

And Ivana adds: “For me everything is just about personal challenge, if I can or can’t. And sometimes to see my husband happy (laughs)” ‘Would you do it again?’ is a good question. “We don’t know! We often think about the saying: A Japanese has to climb Mt. Fuji once in a lifetime. If he does it twice, he is a fool”, they say.


Wishes, advice and... a request

But there are still some reasons why Ivana remains a bit uncomfortable, things that can disturb her sleep. She explains: “Yes, we had two huge storms during the winter and they did a lot of damage in the forest. As a consequence of that, we had to change to a completely different area from the one I had been drawing for a whole month. Karlovac had the biggest flood in its history last summer, so we still have to make some changes there too. These are very disturbing things because you can’t control them. My fears are not about all the work that is planned, but the possible things that can’t be planned for. We have already taken some serious decisions, including having a back-up terrain. The main courses are ready; if needed they could be set up for tomorrow. We have the Model Event, Relay and ‘back-ups’ still in progress but, at the pace that things are going to be finished, I feel that I can have a better sleep.”

The last words contain a wish, as sincere and heartfelt as all that we could feel throughout this interview: “We wish, once you leave, you want to come back! During the competition, you had better be focused! But, after that, enjoy the atmosphere and give yourself some time to look around. Remember that the word most connected with Croatia on the internet is ‘beautiful’. Go to the Adriatic coast and visit the Plitvice lakes, which are a UNESCO site.” And still a guarantee, joined with a request: “We will do our best to make a good and fair competition and if you see some mistakes, please be gentle with us”.


A little game for the children

“The story about finding a third terrain is something special to me. I had already given up searching. One day I was alone and depressed, feeling just like a friend of ours, who was left at home with two small children. We went for a long walk to a place which was formerly a suburb of Zagreb. Being women, we just wanted to gossip, so I made a little game for the children as they didn’t want just to walk. Thinking there was probably nothing to find, I told them that I would make a big trailO competition there if they found twenty special features along the way. So they started running around like crazy, pointing to all kinds of features. Being born in an ‘orienteering family’ they were choosing all the right things. I realised that this wasn’t a joke any more, and immediately called Damir. The very next possible moment, we were there with a base map.

So, when you come to WTOC, please keep in mind that the terrain called Divjaca was picked by two very bright 7-year-old and 12-year-old children who took their task very seriously, and now we all have to keep the promise I gave too easily. To disappoint them would be the worst thing we could do. And yes, they will be there. They will be watching you, and some day you will be watching them.”

Ivana Gobec



[See the original article in the IOF's newsletter Inside Orienteering, at http://orienteering.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/InsideOrient-1_15-3.pdf. Published with permission from the International Orienteering Federation]

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