Monday, November 30, 2015

Sara Hagström: "Elite Orienteering world's challenges are here and I’m really motivated!"

Last May, the story of a ten girls Team, who decided to fight against what they considered a discrimination and ran Tiomila side by side with Men, was subject of heated discussions. This Elite group included well-known names such as Nadiya Volynska, Tove Alexandersson Annika Billstam, Ida Bobach, Catherine Taylor or Simone Niggli. In this true “Dream Team” was also an unfamiliar person... or maybe not as unfamiliar as that! It's her the Portuguese Orienteering Blog's invited today, for a really pleasant talk. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to Sara Hagström.

Following closely this amazing sport, I may easily see you, already, as one of the best in the World, despite your age. And I'm not the only one thinking so, I'm sure. How do you feel about that? Do you already feel the pressure of having so many eyes on you?

Sara Hagström (S. H.)
- I'm flattered of that comment! I don't see myself there yet, but I hope I can prove that I belong to the best when the season starts again. I'm actually comfortable with people believing in me and I'm pretty used to that kind of pressure from my junior-time. But I also really like to come as an underdog in some situations; it often helps me to fight and concentrate more “to prove them wrong”.

Would you like to tell me, in brief, some of the most important moments of your career so far? Was there a moment, a “click”, when you said to yourself ' - that's it, Orienteering is my sport for life'?

S. H.
- One of the most important moments were at the junior selection races, the same time as EOC, in Falun 2012. I was aiming for EYOC but got selected as a 17-year-old for JWOC... a big selection up, that I was really happy for! That Championshis in Slovakia 2012 was like an eye-opener for the international orienteering world. This new world was full of new people to meet, new views of how to think orienteering (inspired from the other juniors), new maps to run on, new challenges and more serious competitions than I ever could imagine. This feeling, that the junior orienteering world had so much more to experience, was one of the highlights and I wanted so much more. I was stuck in the sport!

Is it still possible to harmonize a demanding physical activity - read "Orienteering" - with your studies? How can you do that?

S. H.
- I study Civil Engineering in building technology at Chalmers, in Gothenburg. It is really hard to combine the two things, especially when I'm new in town and come from a year in Halden, with full time-orienteering focus. I really have to prioritize away some things I also want to do for Orienteering, but I really enjoy the orienteering-lifestyle and I know it will be worth it in the future. The time is not enough and after Christmas I will try to study on reduced speed to get the time I need for training, recovery and competitions. Gothenburg is a really good place to combine studies with Orienteering, there are many people with the same goals and we try to lift each other up to reach them. But, of course, sometimes I dream back to the full-time orienteering life in Halden, and hopefully I'll come back to that life some day in the future!

Have you someone helping and motivating you since the beginning? How important was he/she in your career so far?

S. H.
- I have had a lot of important people around me, but it has varied a lot during the years. My parents have always supported me and given me motivation, my sister (who goes all in for xc-skiing) and my brother have been two important training friends. The people at Eksjö Orienteering Gymnasium and in the national team helped me a lot along the way, also my clubs Falköpings AIK OK and Halden SK. My role model, Helena Jansson, has inspired me a lot with her fighting personality, and she motivates me to always go all in! Also Helen Palmer, who shared the apartment with me during last winter, has also played a big part in my life, bringing a positive atmosphere and being also a role model for me in all kinds of situations.

What are your most valuable skills? How do you work it and what are you doing to improve?

S. H.
- That's a hard question... I guess my most valuable skills are that I don't see difficulties as holdbacks, but as challenges. For example, when it's raining outside and I'm supposed to go out running intervals, I think that it will be cool when I'm finished and have managed the hard work.

Do you feel happy about the season? Have you achieved all the goals you've planned?

S. H.
- Yes, I'm happy with the season, but I guess it wasn't exactly what I was expecting. I have been struggling a lot with a several ankle injuries, which prevented me from running as much as I wanted. I have achieved my goals about JWOC, but the most important thing is that I have learned a lot about myself this year. I have had a lot of ups and downs, and I guess that's the main goal for the whole junior-time, to collect experiences and enjoy the ride!

You did mention your achievements and I'm sure that JWOC Long Distance gold was one of it. Was it the top moment of the season? Can you remember that particular day since the beginning?

S. H.
- The long distance gold was an important moment of the season, but not the biggest one! After big struggles at the Sprint and Middle Distance, I really really wanted to succeed at this Long Distance, the distance I had focused hardest on since a year back. I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders, mostly from myself. I remembered to tell Miri Thrane Odum (who finished on 5th place) before start: “- this is our day”. And apparently it was! When I started, the pressure went away and I enjoyed the fantastic Norwegian forest and I guess that was thanks to my preparation that I could rely on. When I crossed the finish line I was mostly relieved. I had managed to do a good race, when it counted the most!

Have you other important moments in the season that you'd like to share?

S. H.
- One of the most important moments this year was at Night Hawk relay, at the end of August. I got the trust to run the last leg for my Norwegian orienteering-club Halden SK. When I found out that I was in 2nd placed, just one minute before a big chasing group, including the big star Anne-Margrethe Hausken Nordberg, I got really nervous and thought that “OK, maybe I can manage the 3rd place if I run really really good”. I was running alone for almost the whole course until the 3rd last control where I heard Anne-Margrethe behind me. The thoughts came that I already was beaten by her, but I stuck in until the last control, thinking all the time that she soon will make a move to pass me. But, somehow, I thought “maybe it will be fun just try to punch the last control before her”. I did it, I ran for my life and kept her behind me all the way to the finish line where my teammates welcomed me! It was an amazing feeling that I had done the impossible and an experience I will carry on my whole life. Nothing is impossible!

Another important moment from this year is the feeling that orienteering never stops being fun, instead the fun is increasing for every training and competition! At O-Ringen, this summer, I made a terrible race the first day with over 10 minutes mistakes, but despite that I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. A technically and physically demanding course that made me realize once again that I have so much left to learn and that I have the chance to get so much to improve. I was already looking forward to the next day!

You could run a World Cup stage for the first time ever in 2014 [and, as much as I remember, you did it again this year, last June, even if the race was cancelled]. How was the experience? What do you feel in a time when you're facing the gigantic challenge of joining the Elite?

S. H.
- It was an important experience and I'm really happy that I got the trust from the coaches to run those races. It makes me more comfortable and calm when I really have to deal with the situation in the future. It was a cool but scary experience. I realized that the level is much higher as in the junior class but I'm looking forward to the challenges. This spring I ran Elite class at Swedish League because I like the feeling that Orienteering is about how to manage challenging courses and not so much about the results. I hope that feeling stuck, being a good concept to reach my goals for the next season.

Are you already preparing 2016? What goals have you designed?

S. H. - Yes, I'm setting up my goals for the next year, a bit differently from the past years. It’s time to move on to a new stage in my orienteering life, the senior-class. Sometimes, when I think of it, I feel a bit worried: Longer courses, older and more experienced competitors, more seriousness among the runners and harder to even qualify for a competition. But when I think of the happiness that I had when I finished O-Ringen's first day, despite the long, demanding course and the terrible performance, the worries disappears. The summary from the past years shows that the happiness and the feeling that I have potential for improving is the engine of my Orienteering. So, why not let the story repeat itself? Why not let the first year as a senior, just as it was as a junior, be a door-opening year full of new experiences and inspiration, and a fight towards one of the blue and yellow spots for EOC 2016, World Cup, and maybe even WOC 2016? Elite Orienteering world's challenges are here and I’m really motivated!

Is Portugal (and the Portugal O' Meeting) in your plans for the winter training period?

S. H.
- Portugal O' Meeting would be a nice break in the winter, but I'm planning to go on some ski-trips in Norway and Sweden, so we'll see if the time comes for Portugal this year.

Now that a new season is about to come, I ask you a wish to those who, all over the world, love and are committed with Orienteering.

S. H.
- I wish all orienteers a nice winter with a lot of nice challenging trainings, club-nights with good friends, new experiences and happiness in Orienteering!

[Photo: Jonas Hagström]

Joaquim Margarido

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