Monday, February 22, 2016

Anna Jacobson: "Being part of The World Games is and always has been very important for orienteering"

The year of 2012 was close to the end when I received an invitation from the IOF to sign the MTBO year's article in the Orienteering World magazine. This message, signed by Anna Jacobson, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. But, if it's true that I continue to write for the IOF, it is no less true that Anna left that body in July, because of the deep structural and logistical changes that the IOF has been submitted. Today, we find her with new responsabilities, but still and always passionate about Orienteering.

How was your time in the IOF Office at Radiokatu, in Finland?

Anna Jacobson (A. J.) - It was the best time of my life (until then)! We had a really good team and I loved to go to work every day. I was in charge of Communications and Anti-Doping, amongst other tasks, both of them really interesting and ever-growing fields. Of course, as we were only 3.7 people working for the IOF, we all did “everything”. Communications meant both publications, website, social media (I created and managed the IOF Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube accounts), leaflets, internal communications, preparations for SportAccord Convention and more. I had great help here from Clive, Hugh, Erik and of course – you! Also the Finnish Federation was cooperating with us closely on the publications, website and videos.

I had several nice projects during the years, for example the IOF 50 years project with an anniversary logo, several historical articles on website and in Inside Orienteering, the Compass Project (compasses to developing countries), the 50 years’ show in WOC in France, the 50 years’ video and of course the special edition of Orienteering World, “The first 50 years” []. Other projects were to create the current website with new functions and series such as Athlete of the Month, new IOF visual image, and the magazine Inside Orienteering, which replaced the older O-Zine. The anti-doping matters included everything from educating the federations and athletes to revising the rules, attending conferences and also speaking there about IOF A-D work. I really enjoyed working with other anti-doping professionals on this field that never stands still for a moment. And of course with the wonderful IOF Medical Commission, with whom it was always a pleasure to work. They were always ready to help us in protecting the athletes’ fundamental right to participate in doping-free sport.

Orienteering World”, “Inside Orienteering” and “Athlete of the Month”, as you've mentioned before, were issues with you signature for many years. How proud are you of your work?

A. J. - I am very proud of the new ideas I was able to bring to both the website and the publications, and of the overall quality. I am less proud of the fact that I never seemed to have quite enough time to concentrate on any of these in the way I would have wanted to. Luckily I had such excellent co-workers (volunteer for the most part) that we made it work every time. I really like what we could do with so little time and so little money. I think we renewed the IOF Communications and brought the IOF closer to the people – both via a new kind of online newsletter (Inside Orienteering), by new kinds of articles on the website and via social media. And I am extremely happy we did the 50 years’ edition. It is the IOF history until now written in 74 pages.

As long as you remember, what were the most important moments of your presence “behind the scenes”?

A. J. - It’s hard to list the most important moments of the eight years, but let’s see... I’ll list some moments that were important for me.
- My first Council meeting (and several after that) and my first Joint Meeting of Council & Commissions. Those meetings always gave more motivation and made the goal of our work sort of more “real”.
- Many moments in anti-doping work. Finding and correcting a mistake in WADA’s own rules, helping athletes, federations and organisers in anti-doping matters, the one positive doping case we had… and when in WADA Conference in South Africa I managed to secure a yearly 40 000 EUR grant to the IOF from the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.
- 2011 Orienteering World - this is one of my biggest achievements and I am so glad we did it. The whole 50 years project was important in many ways – I find it extremely important for an organisation and its staff and officials to know the history of the organisation. You can learn a lot from it.
- Creating Inside Orienteering and joining in social media. I feel both of them brought us closer to the “people”. Also closer to organisations like IWGA and WADA!
- Creating TrailO Athletes’ Commission and re-creating FootO Athletes’ Commission in 2013.
- Bringing together all (living) IOF Presidents in 2011. So much IOF history there!
- … and soooo many other moments. There were so many “close” situations saved in the last minute, so many important meetings with important people, so many General Assemblies to handle, so many medical matters to deal with, so many communication strategies needed, … And personally, for me (besides meeting Åke which was, of course, the best thing of it all), the morning coffee breaks that we had with Barbro and later Riikka, the monthly cakes to celebrate our IOF journey together, the many, many laughters we shared - those were the greatest things.

Your privileged position allowed you to realize how Orienteering has evolved in different countries around the World. Could you mention two or three good examples of how work and perseverance can give the best results?

A. J. - I think it depends very much on the local people in the country. We can try to bring orienteering in new countries and support them the best we can, but only if the locals are or get really behind the idea it can work. A good example is Egypt, where one enthusiast has created a whole new federation with national championships just in a couple of years. Other good examples are of course the many, many countries in South America where Jose Angel Nieto Poblete has been doing great - and patient - work for years.

Are the "rich" countries helping the "poor" countries in the best way? What should we do in order to shorten the differences?

A. J. - I think all countries have economic problems at the moment, or so it seems. There are still many ways to help: to donate equipment, to help with teaching about orienteering, to invite people from the less developed orienteering federations to seminars and competitions.

You've just started working as Social Media Manager at IWGA The World Games. How challenging is your new job?

A. J. - Very challenging, and very enjoyable! The IWGA Team is just wonderful, and I am so happy to get to work for IWGA. I have only started at IWGA, but I see a lot of things we can do to promote both The World Games AND all our sports through social media. My idea is to get more sports to everyone’s Facebook and Twitter feeds! I have also always been a fan of The World Games, since the 2009 Games in Kaohsiung (I lived in Finland for a week in the time zone of Chinese Taipei in order to be able to report everything on time :D), and even more after the Games in Cali, Colombia in 2013, where I was present as communications responsible for the IOF. The World Games is a magnificent event for the athletes - and for the officials as well. It’s an honour to work for IWGA. In general, I enjoy working as a freelancer now, as it gives me more freedom and more time at home.

Orienteering is part of The World Games since 2001. How important can it be for the development of our sport?

A. J. - Being part of The World Games is and always has been very important for orienteering. The World Games is the step to the Olympic Games – but even if you do not want to have orienteering in the Olympic Games, The World Games is the place to showcase orienteering at the world’s sporting stage. In addition, many national federations get support and bonus from their National Olympic Committee if they are selected to The World Games and if they succeed there. I am sure that all athletes that have been in 2009 in Kaohsiung or 2013 in Cali agree with me on that The World Games is a truly amazing experience – as Andrey Khramov said “It’s like the Olympics for sports that are not there yet, and as close as I ever get to taking part in the Olympics”. Actually, it was also Andrey who told me at The World Games 2013 that earlier that year he had lost the spirit and the motivation to train hard, but when he heard he had been selected to the team to The Games, it was the motivation he needed to start training again (he won silver in the sprint!).

For those who follow closely the Trail orienteering phenomena, your name sometimes appears in a very distinguished position. It was so during the last season, in some European Cup in Trail Orienteering (ECTO) stages and, recently, with your victory at Helsinky, in the Aurora Borealis PreO Event. Where (and when) did you find your skills for such particular discipline?

A. J. - In Hungary in 2009. We (the IOF Office & Council) got the opportunity to start to the course after the World Champs PreO competition there (Day 2 in the Zoo). I really liked it, got interested, and found out there was one more competition left in Finland that year: the Finnish Champs. So I read through the technical guidelines, checked how Jari Turto had planned his earlier courses (he was the course planner) and drove 200 km to Kokemäki! I finished 28th, I think, of about 50-60 competitors, but what I remember best was how happy I was to beat Jukka Liikari :) It was also his first competition, but unlike me, he had not read the guidelines yet... (later on we became good TrailO friends and often shared our thoughts about course setting and more)

Could you tell me some of your most pleasant experiences in this discipline?

A. J. - There are so many! One of the recent ones was the Aurora Borealis PreO in -24ºC and strong wind – not because of the weather but in spite of it: the course and map were really good. Another recent competition that I liked was the ECTO final in Czech Republic, even though the PreO part did not go that well for me. And of course winning at the Lithuanian ECTO was great – in particular as I won over Martin (Fredholm) on the timed control! Competing is mostly always pleasant, and I’m looking forward to get new countries to my list as well (until now I’ve competed in 7 countries – but tried TrailO in 10). I also enjoyed very much organising the first competitions of ECTO 2015, the FinTrailO 2015. I was the Event Director and, together with Åke, controller for TempO and PreO Day 2. I would like to add that my husband Åke is a former PreO Finnish Champion (2014) - the first and so far last Swede with this title! So TrailO really is a family sport for us.

What attracts you the most in Trail orienteering?

A. J. - That it requires so good map-reading skills (PreO) and that it requires you read the map and the terrain really fast (TempO). I like map-reading and I love orienteering and competing, so TrailO is perfect for me.

Have you been following the discipline's improvement in the recent years? What's your opinion on it?

A. J. - I have been following the development very closely. I don’t think all orienteers should try TrailO, as I don’t think they should try MTBO or SkiO, but I hope they all can see it’s a real discipline that requires training and hard work. Having said that, I personally think TempO is more suitable for competitions than PreO. But I must say I like PreO a lot, and also the Relay. I was on the first leg in the relay in Sweden last year, and it was great fun to think about the tactics and to run to save time. Regarding other development, I think TrailO has changed a lot during the recent years, and for the better. And I am not in favour of having the zero tolerance in the rules. I think the key to fair competitions is training the course setters and event advisers.
To represent Finland in the European or World Championships is something in your mind already this year?

A. J. - Not this year: the teams have been chosen. And I was not up for it yet! But in two years – why not… At least I have a lot of experience from Latvia, and hopefully soon from Portugal too.

It means that we are going to see you next April, in Lisbon, for the ECTO's first round.

A. J. - I really hope so! It seems that it’s not so easy to get to Lisbon from Helsinki, but we are trying to find a way to be there!

In the beginning of a new season, I would ask you to make a wish to those, everywhere, who love and are committed to Orienteering.

A. J. - I wish for all of you many happy courses throughout the year!

Joaquim Margarido

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