Friday, January 08, 2016

IOF Athlete of December: Ulrik Nordberg

The last Athlete of the Month for 2015 is Ski Orienteer Ulrik Nordberg from Sweden. The young athlete has had a fantastic opening to this season, and despite difficult snow conditions he is training hard to continue doing well in the competitions ahead.

Name: Ulrik Nordberg
Country: Sweden
Club: Umeå OK
Date of Birth: August 22nd 1993
Discipline: Ski orienteering
Career Highlights: World Cup triumph Sprint November 2015, EOC bronze Sprint 2014, JWOC gold Sprint 2013, JWOC silver long 2013, JWOC bronze middle 2012.
IOF World Ranking: 9th

Ulrik Nordberg didn’t get in to his first choice of school when applying for gymnasium, the Swedish equivalent of High School. But that particular 2009 setback ended up being not so bad at all for his career.

Nordberg was born in Stockholm and grew up in Söderfors, 125 kilometer north of the Swedish capital. He is the second youngest of four cousins. His mother Karin Nordberg has been very active in sport, and his father Lars Olov Nordberg is also active in sport. Ulrik grew up with orienteering and cross country skiing.

Got the feeling

Already in his second start in ski orienteering he showed incredible talent. Ulrik came third in the Swedish Ski Orienteering Championships in the class Men 15 in 2008.

The venue for the championships was a big reason for Ulrik taking part, as it was organised in Sundsvall which was not so far from home. He hadn’t really got hooked on SkiO before the race, but that race and the medal he won were a big inspiration for the young boy, who represented the club Tierps OK at that time.

Ended up in snow district

Some months later he had to decide where to go to gymnasium, or High School. Just like the winner of the Men 15 class in the Ski-O Championships in 2008, Emil Svensk, he applied for the orienteering gymnasium in Sandviken, not so far from home in Söderfors.

- I wanted to go for both orienteering and ski orienteering and thought the gymnasium in Sandviken would be a fine place for doing the combination.
One year older than Ulrik, Tove Alexandersson took the Sandviken route choice, and she’s now one of the best in the world in both orienteering and ski orienteering.

Emil Svensk also got into Sandviken. He chose orienteering, and went on to win the middle distance at the JWOC in orienteering in 2013.

Headed north

Ulrik didn’t get a place in Sandviken, but he got a place at the sports gymnasium in Älsbyn, in the Northern part of Sweden where his parents are originally from. His mother Karin is from Luleå and his father Lars Olov from Piteå. The family also moved north, back to the roots in the country in 2009, settling down in Luleå.

– I think my parents wanted a bit more snow, Ulrik says.

Älsbyn became a choice that suited the big talent well. Teacher and trainer Sture Norén provided many technical, challenging and good trainings.

– Even if I hoped for Sandviken when I applied for the sports gymnasium, it was good to end up in Älvsbyn.

He spent four years at the Ski-O gymnasium.

He has become better and better and has developed his talent step by step. In 2009 he won the Swedish Youth Championships in Boden. Emil Svensk was one of the athletes that he beat.

When Ulrik started at high school in Älvsbyn he hadn’t decided on a main sport, but the natural choice was ski orienteering. Small injuries made it easier to train for the winter variant of orienteering.

The cold part of the year has become the most important for Ulrik, but he is still running a lot of orienteering.

Full time sport

In his last year as a junior he won gold at the sprint at JWOC in Madona in Latvia.

– I had had the gold as a goal for a couple of year. At the sprint in Latvia everything went perfect. My best performance ever. It was also so good to win and get the proof of my level.

The gap to Dag Lofthus from Norway who came in second place was 35seconds, which is a significant gap.

Before last season he was sick for six weeks and needed a lot of the winter to find his way back into shape. He took part in the World Championships in Norway and was 17th on both the Sprint and the Long Distance, and 18th on the Middle Distance.

Number two over all

This winter he has achieved a new level.

Ulrik was first, seventh and second in the first three individual races at the World Cup start of this year’s season. In the sprint relay he won together with his team mate Tove Alexandersson.

The individual victory was taken at the sprint. He likes all distances, but there is something special about the shortest discipline.

– You have to be fast on the skis and take fast decisions and avoid all mistakes, he says.

Nordberg has a lot of skills that make him such a good athlete.

– My best skills? I don’t have to look much at the map before I understand it. I’m in it just after the first looks. I don’t have to look to map all the time either. I can memorise it well.

– How much can you remember?

– About three legs is possible, but just to be sure I often watch the map as I go along.

He also has some advantages in skiing.

– I like to go downhill in steep and small tracks.

Half the age

Ulrik is number two overall after the opening round of the World Cup. The leader is Eduard Khrennikov. The Russian won his first overall triumph in the World Cup when Ulrik was just six and a half years old. The 43 year old Russian is 20 years, three months and three days older than Ulrik.

– Eduard shows the importance of experience in ski orienteering.

– Will you still be in the top business when you’re at Khrennikov’s age?

– I’m pretty sure I will not be fighting to be one of the very best when I get to Khrennikov’s age, he smiles. – But I am also sure I will not stop training, even when I have quit the high level.

After the opening round of the World Cup Eduard Khrennikov has 145 points. Two Swedes follow, first Nordberg with 140 points and then Erik Rost with 125.

This winter the World Cup and European Championship are the main competitions. Of course Ulrik wants to be in the fight for the first positions at the European Championship in Austria. For next winter he has the same goal, but for the World Championship in Krasnoyarsk in Siberia.

The first of the upcoming big races is the World Cup in Germany, which takes place January 21 to 27. The European Championships and the last races in the World Cup will take place in Austria at the end of February and the beginning of March.

He’s just training

The snow conditions have been very poor this winter, but there is some natural snow and some man-made snow up in Umeå. There has been very little snow across the whole of Sweden, and races have had to be cancelled.

– It hasn’t been good with so little snow. It’s not nice, but you have to take it like it is and just do the training. There’s not much to do about it. I am managing to get in plenty of cross country ski training, but it’s a bit more challenging to get in the orienteering training.

So far this winter Ulrik has taken part in nine events, six in Finland where the World Cup started, and three in his home country.

He moved to Umeå last year, where he has found a new club and new people to train with.

– I am training with cross country skiers who are faster than me. It’s a goal to become physically stronger.

The main progress

Since August he has been a full time athlete.

– How does being a professional ski orienteer work financially?

– I worked a lot last spring and summer, so I can do it full time now. I also get help from my parents and sponsors.

His daily life is programmed for doing well in sport.

– Now I can direct all my focus on improving, and the training necessary to reach my goals. I also have time for rest.

Can have days off

During this training year Ulrik will achieve about 600 training hours. A training week can mean anything from 10 to 25 hours. In the training periods he normally takes one day a week without training. During the competition part of the year this can rise from one to two days. He has become more open to do so after he had some weeks with sickness during the autumn 2014. He listens more to his body.

– I can take an extra rest day if I feel that’s the smartest thing to do.

Ulrik knows what to do!

Ulrik Nordberg has taken his career step by step, from being one of the best juniors to fighting in the top with the seniors. Already in 2014 – in his first senior year – he took a medal at the European Championships. Now he has won one individual race in the World Cup, and is number two overall.

[Text: Erik Borg. Photo: Malin Björqvist. See the original article at Published with permission from the International Orienteering Federation]

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