Wednesday, September 23, 2015

IOF Athlete of September: Anton Foliforov

IOF’s Athlete of September needs no presentation for people familiar with Mountain-bike Orienteering. Two World Champion titles and two European Champion titles this year, victory in the World Cup for the second time in a row and a big lead in the IOF World Rankings has made Anton Foliforov the biggest name in MTB Orienteering right now. From the first ride, under the watchful eye of an expert father, to the most outstanding moments of his career so far; read what Anton has to say.

Name: Anton Foliforov
Country: Russia
Date of Birth: 3rd January 1987
Discipline: MTB Orienteering
Career highlights: World MTB Orienteering Championships – Gold at Long Distance (2010, 2014 and 2015), Middle Distance (2015), Sprint (2011 and 2014) and Relay (2009 and 2010); European MTB Orienteering Championships – Gold at Long Distance (2015) and Middle Distance (2015); World Cup – 1st overall in the Mountain Bike Orienteering World Cup in 2014 and 2015.
IOF World Ranking position: 1st.

Born in Kovrov, 250 km east of the Russian capital Moscow, Anton Foliforov seemed to have his destiny set in advance. From his early years he got used to following his father, a successful coach in Cycling, and it was natural that one of his biggest gifts was his first bike when he was six. To ride “with the older guys” is among his happy childhood memories, and as a 10-year-old Anton became part of the group of youngsters riding in his club. “I was so small that I had to ride a bike without a seat post, with the saddle right on the frame”, he recalls.

The years went by, and in early 2003 an apparently simple event definitively changed Anton’s life. The unexpected visit to the club of an MTBO coach brought up a challenge. In the previous year Fontainebleau had hosted the first-ever World MTB Orienteering Championships, and new opportunities to those who loved bikes seemed to arise. Who dares to try? With nothing to lose, Anton set off to discover. “Liking maps” may have helped him decide. Since then, MTB Orienteering has become a part of his life and definitely his main sport, and the mysterious visitor has since then been his coach.

The first rides

In 2003 Kovrov hosted the Russian MTBO Championships, and Anton Foliforov had the opportunity to participate in what was his first significant competition. Joining the Elite class and competing alongside stars such as Maxim Zhurkin, Viktor Korchagin and Ruslan Gritsan, the young outsider took the silver medal in the Classic (Long) Distance, and with it came the needed motivation to focus even more intensely on the sport. Later that year, in September and October, he had the chance to participate in the last three rounds of the World Cup. 32nd place in an individual stage was the best result achieved, but from the experience of competing in Poland, Czech Republic and Italy he gained experience on new maps and terrains, contact with the emerging names in the MTBO world and an enhanced dose of motivation.

In 2005 Anton headed to Banska Bystrica in Slovakia as a member of the Russian national team in a World MTB Orienteering Championship for the first time. The first good result appeared in the following year in Joensuu, Finland, with 5th place in Middle Distance. But we had to wait until 2009 to see Anton Foliforov rise to the top of the podium in what the athlete recalls as the best moment of his career so far: “It was in Ben Shemen, Israel, with the gold medal in the Relay. I ran the last leg and went out six minutes lagging behind the lead, but in the end I was able to win. It was something very unexpected.” But some less good episodes also occurred, the worst of which was his exclusion from the Final in the Long Distance course of the World Championships in Italy in 2011: “I had a mechanical problem in the qualifying race and I couldn’t finish it. I wasn’t allowed to compete in the A-Final, and therefore lost the chance to defend my world title. It was very sad and not quite fair in my opinion”, he says.

Three questions, three answers

Do you have a preference for a particular terrain or distance?

“Now I prefer hilly terrain, regardless of the distance. But I must confess that I do find the Sprint Mixed Relay interesting and entertaining. In any case, I always try to do my best on every course.”

Which particular skills do you have that makes you a “primus inter pares”, the best of the best?

“Skills are unique and vary for each athlete. Honestly, I cannot identify my best skills for MTBO. I train for the physical part, and I try to keep a cool head at every moment throughout the race.”

Do you have any support or sponsors that allow you to see yourself as a professional in MTB Orienteering?

“A major support comes from the National Team. I can feel a tremendous energy and willingness to work and seek quality training, thinking ahead to the big competitions. In addition, there is the support of the Russian Orienteering Federation, but also the Regional Federation and the Regional Sports Department, to whom I owe a sincere word of gratitude. Saying this, I think that I can consider myself as a professional in MTB Orienteering.”

Luck at Middle Distance

Liberec in the Czech Republic can now be seen as an important milestone in Anton Foliforov’s career. There, in August, the athlete won two of the six world titles he has achieved, getting his second gold medal in a row at Long Distance and for the first time ever winning the gold in the Middle Distance. These achievements make him the athlete with the most world titles ever in men’s MTB Orienteering, along with his compatriot Ruslan Gritsan. Therefore the best moments of the recent World Championships were “each time I was on the top of the podium, singing the national anthem of the Russian Federation, with my team-mates singing with me”.

From the latest achievements, Anton highlights a moment: “I think that reaching a world title is anything but easy, but I must admit I was very lucky winning the gold in the Middle Distance. Luca Dallavalle was in the lead throughout the race, but he had a problem with a tyre just at the last control, which prevented him from winning. But this is a sport where the ‘man-machine’ combination is always present, and no-one is safe from bike problems.”

To join the Olympic program we need to make our sport more spectacular”

But Liberec also offered the opportunity to reflect on MTBO’s current state of development. To have Brian Porteous, the IOF President, joining the athletes and riding in the World Masters MTBO Championships “was very positive and it shows that he is interested in our discipline and will support us in the future”, Anton reflects. The athlete looks on the new mapping standards, the rules about riding off the tracks and the touch-free punching system, amongst others, to say that “MTBO is going in the right direction”. But he warns: “If organisers allow riding off the tracks, then competitors must ride and not run with the bike; otherwise, organisers must forbid competitors from leaving the tracks.” And also an eye on the Olympics: “To join the Olympic program we need to make our sport more spectacular.”

The season is approaching its end, and Anton looks back on the long time he has spent away from his family and friends, “who support me all the time”. Now it’s time for “one or two weeks without my bike, to lie on the beach”. But he’s already thinking of the next challenges: “I will prepare myself for all the MTBO competitions next season and I want to do even better. 2015 has been my best season ever so far, but I’ll be trying to improve my results in the future, though it will be very hard I suppose.” About the future, his last words: “I will continue MTB Orienteering for as long as I’m able to compete with the other top riders.”

[Text and photo: Joaquim Margarido. See the original article at Published with permission from the International Orienteering Federation]

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