She claims to be prepared to face the Elite's world and cherishes the idea of being faster and stronger in the end of the season. We speak of Sandrine Müller, our guest today, one athlete who won her first two gold medals in an international competition at the age of 13 and that has been confirmed as a great champion, both in Orienteering and life.
I would like to know, in brief, some of the most important moments of your career so far?
Sandrine Müller (S. M.) - My international career began when I was very young. Early-on, I already gained some experiences at EYOC 2009, in Serbia. As a big surprise to me, I was already very successful there and won the Sprint and the Relay in the category women 16 as a 13-year old! These results were highly motivating and I was proud to represent Switzerland. Even though I was quite shy, I found out that it is a lot of fun to meet many other young people from different countries and backgrounds, to talk to them and to exchange our experiences all of, which is always a great pleasure.
The next big event in my orienteering résumé was my exchange year in Sweden 2011-2012. Beforehand, I wrote mails to many different clubs in Sweden and Norway to find a host family and a club with good training possibilities. Gävle OK answered very quickly and offered to help with my project. Family Boman, living in Gävle, were my host parents and they took care of me as if I was their own daughter during the whole year. I am still very thankful to them and the great club Gävle OK. They even helped me being accepted into the orienteering “high school” in Sandviken. I stayed in a shared flat with other Swedish orienteers during the week and could orienteer and train a lot in Scandinavian terrain. I had never been in Sweden before, but I loved this country immediately. I’m sure, the huge amount of orienteering practice substantially helped me to improve in the technical aspects. Especially my compass skills improved. And last but not least, being able to communicate in Swedish has a lot of advantages in the orienteering world: one understands the speaker at O-ringen, one can easily talk with amazing people such as the Norwegians, Swedes, Danes and some Finnish orienteers. Therefore, it is not always necessary to talk in English which I find much more difficult than Swedish ;).
How did you start, the first contact, the motivation for doing Orienteering, the first achievements, the first international events... Was there a moment, a “click”, when you said to yourself ' - that's it, Orienteering is my sport for life'?
S. M. - Sport in general was always very important in my family. My dad was one of the best downhill skier of Switzerland and my mum was very talented playing tennis. When I was small, I went to tennis lessons, spent a lot of time with my Dad on the ski slopes, but also enjoyed dancing, playing handball, running and mountain biking. My parents loved being outside in nature. My dad also did some fishing and collected mushrooms and they both liked orienteering. Even though my family is no classic orienteering family (my parents began very late with that sport), I grew up as if I was in one. Orienteering has always been my sport for life even though I got the possibility to try so many other interesting activities. My parents never forced me to choose “their” sport either tennis or downhill skiing. Orienteering was always fascinating to me and I had most of my friends there. As a child, it was an adventure to run through different forests. The recognition and sometimes even receiving prizes made it even the more appealing to me.
Now, I appreciate the same things, but also that it offers incredible possibilities to travel and to explore the world. Without orienteering, I wouldn’t know so many great and interesting people as I do now.
Are you able to harmonize your studies with the practice of Orienteering? How can you do that?
S. M. - I began to study Mechanical and Process Engineering at ETH Zurich last autumn. To combine my studies and the training, I moved in a shared flat near the university. There are many orienteers studying in Zurich and there is also a “national training center” (Nationales Leistungszentrum) with organized trainings in Zurich. Strength and orienteering trainings, as well as running sessions of high quality are offered, and I try to participate as often as possible. I enjoy the training in the group, it’s easier to push oneself with others around. Only a few years ago, I looked up to some of the athletes I’m training with now, such as Julia Gross and Martin Hubmann. Sure, they are still faster and stronger, but it’s a huge chance for me to benefit from their enormous experience. Even though I also often have to train alone, but since I love training and I’m used to do it by myself, it’s not such a big problem.
My studies are very interesting, too, but I was under a lot of pressure for the last couple of months. It is a tough degree and with my ambitions in orienteering, it is hard to fulfill the requirements for both when there are only 24 hours per day available. With the help of the national team coaches, I’ll try to get a special permit for extending my study time. It will take longer until I graduate, but this way I have the possibility to reach my (high) goals in Orienteering as well as in my studies.
Have you someone helping and motivating you since the beginning? How important has he or she been in your career so far?
S. M. - There are many very important people who helped me a lot. First of all, my greatest and most generous sponsors: mum and dad. My parents are divorced but luckily, I have a good relationship to both. Mum was more “in the background”, helping me a lot with my life besides the sport. She showed me how important it is to cultivate friendships, having a good education and working on my personality.
My dad is the most important person supporting me in orienteering. He follows every competition and if possible, he is there in person. It means a lot to me that he already travelled twice to the junior world championships just for cheering me on. This year, as an example, he travelled secretly to Norway, telling me nothing about his plans. During a meeting with the team, he was suddenly standing in front of the cabin. I couldn’t believe it. The next day, I won the bronze medal in the middle distance. He knew that last year I had some difficult times, especially in winter/spring. In winter, I couldn’t run for three months due to problems with my Achilles tendon. And as soon as that was healed, the next blow of fate hit me: my beloved grandparents (parents of my father) died both just before the final exams at school and the selection races for the world champs. It was very hard to focus on those mundane things when your heart is hurting. I don’t know how, but somehow I pulled through. Then, in the finish of the middle race at JWOC, I heard that I was coming in third and the first person who embraced me was my dad. The emotions overwhelmed me. It was not just the happiness of achieving my goal I had worked hard for. It was more: sharing this important moment with my dad, who also went through this hard emotional time and nevertheless supported me all the time. This is an indescribable feeling.
What are your most valuable skills? How do you work it and what are you doing to improve?
S. M. - I think the most valuable skill is my passion for Orienteering. In combination with my ambition, which is also quite high, I simply don’t lose the motivation to do this amazing sport as often as possible. Even in really bad weather, I never say no to an orienteering training. ;)
Do you feel happy about the past season? Have you achieved all the goals you've planned?
S. M. - Oh, yes, of course, I definitely feel happy about the season. I even achieved goals I’ve never thought I could. My big goal for the last junior season was to win an individual medal at JWOC again. (I won my first two JWOC medals at my debut in Slovakia 2012.) One could say, that was the only “planned” achievement. Due to the fact that I really love orienteering and had some spare time in summer, I simply filled up the weeks with orienteering and other events: O-Ringen, the Swiss national youth training camp in Lamoura, the Swiss Track Championship in 5000 meters and JWMTBOC (JWOC in MTBO). Maybe it was not the best or clever planning due to nearly no recovery time. But I enjoyed every single competition, had a lot of fun and all the pressure was gone after JWOC. It was pure pleasure and I actually performed nearly always well. In one sentence: It was the best summer of my life.
Certainly your two JWOC bronze medals are the biggest achievement of the season. I'm I
S. M. - Yes, all three JWOC medals are the biggest achievements for me. On my last JWOC I really wanted to confirm my first two JWOC medals. The preparation for this goal already began two years ago. That year, I struggled a lot with some health issues: I suffered under a pre- stage stress fracture in 2013. I missed JWOC in the Czech Republic for this reason, but after a recovery time I could slowly begin to run again. First, only in water, and then I was allowed to run in the terrain again. Accidentally, it was the week when the Swiss junior team went to Rauland (Norway) to prepare for JWOC 2015. It felt fantastic to run again and to have the possibility to do it in the wonderful marshes which made it even better. At this time, I didn’t think a lot about JWOC 2015, but received a good feeling how the terrain would be like. A year later, I had another great possibility for preparing, when I joined my Norwegian club Lillomarka O-lag at camp Norway which took place in Rauland. Robert Merl and Helen Palmer, two experienced elite orienteers, were the coaches for our little Lillomarka team. They shadowed us and their advice was always very valuable. I remember Helen telling me that I should always do a “mini-route choice”. From then on I trained to watch constantly the terrain and simultaneously choose the best possible passage through the vegetation for the next few meters. After the training camp, I wrote down some essential points how I have to run in this terrain to be safe and fast. “Mini route choice” was one point, another was “follow the marshes, they are like paths”. At JWOC a year after the camp, I felt a lot of pressure, but I had my plan. I knew, I was well prepared and that it will work.
Have you other important moments in the season that you'd like to share?
S. M. - I already mentioned many. Nevertheless, the important moments continued into autumn. I was selected for two elite competitions: the Euromeeting in Estonia and the World Cup Final in Switzerland (Arosa). Even being selected showed me that the coaches see a high potential in my skills. It is an acknowledgment that gives me a lot of motivation and self-confidence for the future. Naturally, I couldn’t fight for podium places yet, but I gained important experiences for my forth-coming seasons in the elite category.
Tell me about the World Cup Final, in Arosa. How was the experience? What do you feel in a time when you're facing the gigantic challenge of joining the Elite?
S. M. - The races, especially the long distance, were physically tough. I caught a cold just before the competitions, so it was even more difficult for me to tap into my full potential. I didn’t feel as strong as I had wished and I couldn’t run the speed I’m used to, but the results were satisfactory. In the middle distance, I could even sit on the leader’s bench for a few minutes! This was a great moment and a nice way to end the season.
I don’t feel like it is a huge hurdle to join the elite classes. Sure, the courses are longer than the junior ones, but I really like that aspect. In my last junior year, I already ran a few elite courses to prepare for this level (for example at POM 2015 or at a few national races in Switzerland). I’m comfortable with longer courses; the long distance courses in W 20 were generally too short in my opinion, especially here in Switzerland…
What means to you to be part of the Swiss Orienteering Team?
S. M. - It is very important for me to be part of the Swiss Orienteering Team. I get a lot of support and the whole team including athletes, coaches, doctors, physical therapists and mental coaches is of world class quality. Our coaches François Gonon, Vroni König-Salmi and Patrik Thoma are three personalities with a huge amount of knowledge, passion and motivation. I’m proud to be part of this team!
We could see you really close to the medals in the Junior World Championships... in MTBO (4th place twice, in the Middle and Long Distance). How did you see the experience? It was just for fun or we're about to see you quit the FootO and joining the national MTBO team in the future?
S. M. - Ha ha, no, you will not see me quit FootO. Even though MTBO is an amazing and demanding sport and I think every orienteer who has a bike should try it once! I see MTBO mainly as a perfect alternative training for me. The week of the Junior World Championships in MTBO was fantastic and an additional highlight of last summer. It was much more familiar than the FootO JWOC and I learned to know awesome people there. To be honest, I went without proper preparation, but I’m not an athlete doing competitions at world championships “just for fun”. I went there without real goals and felt unusually low pressure on me. However, I wanted to do my best and see what I could achieve. Every single race was a pleasure: great maps, difficult route choices and beautiful trails. It was nice, that I could also achieve good results. I feel that I’m much more talented in FootO and I’ll try my potential there first.
Are you already preparing the present season? What goals have you designed for 2016?
S. M. - Primary, I want to gather as much experience as possible. With the help of high quality training in the elite team and the training group in Zurich, I want to become faster and stronger. Possibly, the main goal would be the World University Orienteering Championships.
Are we going to see you at the Portugal O' Meeting next February? How does your winter season is going to be like?
S. M. - Unfortunately, no, I cannot take part this year. I really like the Portugal O’ Meeting and I’ve already participated many times. This year, I’m busy with an internship for my studies at the same time.
Now that a new season is about to start, I ask you a wish to those who, all over the world, love and are committed with Orienteering.
S. M. - Meeting friends, spending time with family and taking care of each other is a part of our sport in addition to the “performance” part. I wish you a lot of fun before, during and after each training and competition!
[Photo: Yann Schlegel]