Emily Benham needs no introduction. One of the most cherished and admired athletes in the MTB orienteering world, the winner of the World Cup 2015 is also one of the most available. To the Portuguese Orienteering Blog, she talks positively about the season and leaves a couple of question marks to 2016.
How does it taste your season 2015?
Emily Benham (E. B.) - I've spent two months pondering this question in my own analysis. When looking at the results on paper, the overwhelming majority of final placings were 1st. In fact, just three results were outside the top 6, and they weren't MTBO results! On the whole, 2015 was a success, but I won the races I had no focus on, and lost the races I prepared well for. Most of all I'm frustrated that I was in best shape I've ever had, and I missed the opportunities to make the most of it.
To the IOF's Athlete of the Month, September 2014, you said: “I find myself craving perfect races and anything less just isn't good enough”. How many perfect races did you achieved in 2015?
E. B. - The mass start in Hungary came close, but I think the very best race throughout the season was the Long Distance in Pilsen. I was really focussed and doing my own race, making calculated decisions, but I ended up overheating and had to suffer to the finish. A real pain cave race. I had no idea of how good that race was until I saw the final results, and then all the suffering was worth it!
Like in 2014, you managed getting great results along the season... until the World Championships. What is still missing for the gold?
E. B. - I have my theories. It's just about another year of training to test them out.
Would you like to tell, in brief, about your performances this year, both in European and World Championships?
E. B. - I missed key pieces of information in both Middle races that cost me the opportunity to fight for gold. The Long at the European Championships was an interesting and unusual race. Apart from a big mistake to one control I was riding really well, even though it didn't feel that great at the time. I generally made good decisions, but really I'm not sure I'm satisfied with that race either. Things just didn't go my way this year for various reasons.
You could save the winning in the World Cup 2015 overall, but you lose the IOF World Ranking' s leadership to Martina Tichovska. Are you surprised? Does Martina deserve the title of “MTB Orienteering Achievement of 2015”?
E. B. - Martina has been around the top of MTBO for many years now, and last year she was so close to medals at the World Championships in all distances! She has really earned being the double World champion and I can't think of a more deserving athlete to have what is probably the strongest ever WMTBOC week by a female. Being world number one is just a reflection on the hard work she had put in over the years. It was almost a pleasure to be beaten by her and to see her have some incredible races.
You're a very committed person in MTB Orienteering's development and I would hear you about the improvements along this year. Was there any moment / fact / event that represented a big step further in our sport?
E. B. - I think one of the biggest things to happen in MTBO circles is the employment of a marketing manager in the IOF. The essence is to make MTBO and SkiO into marketable sports. The ultimate goal is probably to create a TV friendly sport that is 'simple' to understand, but there are so many steps along the way. Right now, the allowance of a XC style mass start is just a small step - can't wait to try this out!
Is there something new about to come that will make our sport even better?
E. B. - There will always be some new idea that has the potential to make MTBO better. It's just a matter of being brave enough to take the leap, rather than messing around in endless discussions. Without change, MTBO will be left behind. There is so much amazing technology out there that has potential in the sport.
How do you see MTB Orienteering in 2025? More athletes, events, public, spectacularity? Will United States or Brazil be the teams to beat?
E. B. - I really hope we will see more athletes, but also more athletes staying in the sport and not moving on to greener pastures. I'd love to see a global World Cup every year, not only in terms of the countries we race in, but also with the nations attending and being competitive at the top. I hope MTBO is able to make it to a TV friendly sport - shorter, more intense, more pressure. Man made singletracks and a tighter track network. There's so much potential for the sport.
As for future teams to beat, I think USA has great potential once they get more regular events throughout the country. The improvement they've made since 2012 is amazing. Any cycling nation has potential in MTBO, just imagine if the Netherlands start fielding a team? Or South Africa. Or even China. The task ahead is about getting maps in these 'potential' nations and finding people there who are able to develop MTBO.
Are you already planning the next season?
E. B. - Actually in 2016 I'm not looking to MTBO to form a significant part of my year. I have other goals I want to achieve. I'll still be at the big races; maps are in my blood, but I'm not having any focus on MTBO.
How does Portugal match in your agenda?
E. B. - Portugal is going to be one part of a fun season riding my bikes. I'm not sure what my goals are there, or even for MTBO at all in 2016. What I do know is that I'm going to enjoy my time there again, riding an amazing bike and with great friends.