Saturday, April 09, 2016

IOF Athlete of the Month: Inês Domingues

I would be happy with a diploma; to get a medal would be awesome, and listening to the national anthem would be indescribable.”

Those who know her say she is a committed person, really focused and a hard worker. She loves meeting new and interesting people and likes to have fun and to laugh and be with friends. But she also recognises that sometimes she can be very nervous, or very impatient, being the kind of person who doesn’t like to walk slowly and who hates to have to wait. Are these traits of her personality the reasons for her fine performances as a Trail Orienteering athlete, and in particular in TempO? That’s what we’ll try to understand in this interview with the Portuguese orienteer Inês Domingues, the International Orienteering Federation’s Athlete of the Month.

Name: Inês Domingues
Country: Portugal
Home town: Marinha Grande
Club: COC – Clube de Orientação do Centro
Date of Birth: 9th April 1994
Discipline: TrailO
Career Highlight: 7th place in TempO, WTOC 2015

Inês Domingues was born into a family of orienteers. “As long as I can remember, my parents and my brother have been doing Orienteering. One day my mother took me with her on my first course. For a while we did the races together, until the time came when I began to venture out myself into the forest. The fact is that I don’t remember not doing Orienteering; it is something that has always been part of my life”, she says.

From the state of nervousness she had the first time she found herself alone in the forest to the excitement of big international events goes just a short way in time for her, but a time full of occasions that the athlete remembers in a particularly grateful way. Firstly because Orienteering is a way to make lots of friends and, in her case, also to come into a second family which is her club, the COC – Clube de Orientação do Centro. “All the most important persons to me belong to it and I have always felt at home doing Orienteering”, says Inês.

The ingredients for a perfect recipe

To Inês Domingues, Orienteering is the best way to combine two things she has always liked: sporting activity and thinking, to exercise both body and mind. The bonus is that it is an outdoor activity out in the wild nature and in the most varied scenery. For her, “to reach the finish and have a good result makes me happy of course, but the feeling of running with a map in my hands, surrounded only by nature – that’s what makes me feel really good, entirely free.”

As the challenges increased, Inês’s interest in Orienteering grew. The increasing difficulty of the courses she ran on proved to be directly proportional to the passion she felt for the sport. From her point of view, “Orienteering is different from any other sport, offering varied terrain and a huge variety of physical challenges. There’s also the need to think and solve the tasks. And finally, there is this constant and intimate contact with nature.” For Inês, the conclusion is simple: “If this is not the perfect recipe, I don’t know what it could be.”

The first international experiences

From her early years, Inês Domingues showed great technical ability in terms of map reading and spatial orientation. Although her potential was low in physical terms, her technique compensated for this in the best possible way, enabling her to be among the best at national level. And so, almost naturally, Inês was called up to join the Portuguese Youth Foot Orienteering teams, which proved to be very important for her training as an athlete, providing her with new tools and allowing her to develop her technical skills still further.

Inês speaks with emotion about her time in the youth team: “The time I spent in the Portuguese team was very productive in terms of the evolution of my Orienteering technique. I noticed a big difference between when I began my career in the selection group and when I left. Training and meetings become particularly productive when you have someone to discuss all your steps and choices with. We trained as a group and we grew up as a group, helping each other.” And learning from her own mistakes, always pursuing the idea of improving every day, so aiming to reach the highest level possible.

Three questions, three answers …

When did you hear about Trail Orienteering for the first time?

“I heard about Trail Orienteering for the first time in 2013, and I took part in my first PreO event in 2014.”

What did you know about this discipline?

“The only thing I knew at the beginning was that it was a discipline in which there was no physical component, only Orienteering’s technical element. I also knew that Trail Orienteering wasn’t just for disabled people but for all those who wanted to try it.”

How did you decide to enter your first event, and what memories do you have from that occasion?

“I think it was pure curiosity. I only had some basic notions about a Trail orienteering course, but I wanted to try. The fact of it being a competition in which the intellectual part is what really counts, awoke enough interest in me. And after trying it I started to like it. I had some difficulties, especially when it came to certain rules with which I was unfamiliar, but overall it was fun and I enjoyed orienteering ‘only with my head’. I found it really interesting that it was possible for situations that were apparently easy to be so very challenging.”

A diligent student

Following up her curiosity about Trail orienteering’s inner challenge, Inês only learnt the basics before she went to her first event. “I didn’t prepare more than this and nor did I do any training because, on the one hand, I wasn’t aware yet about what I was going to face and on the other, I had no goals in terms of results”, she recalls. The fact is that things went well enough and after her first experience came a second one; Inês found herself reviewing some of the Orienteering principles considered more relevant in this discipline, such as the control descriptions, more systematically and she began to deepen her knowledge of some of the rules and specific techniques in Trail Orienteering.

Her first truly remarkable experience in Trail Orienteering was her victory in the Portuguese TempO Championships in 2014. “Come, see and conquer”, in what was her first TempO experience ever, is something that Inês doesn’t easily forget. And she suggests an explanation: “Before the race I tried some TempO exercises on the computer, to get an idea of what I was about to face. Then during the competition I confess I didn’t expect to achieve a good result, so I wasn’t too nervous. I think that it was my basic knowledge of Orienteering, together with a slight impatience due to the clock counting away, that created a good balance between correct answers and speed.”

What kind of inspiration was there in your victory? Do you feel ‘predestined’ for Trail Orienteering and, in particular, for TempO?

“I think some people have a certain natural ability suited to this type of competition. However there is a lot that can be worked on and trained. Good map reading skills and orienteering technique, along with the ability to answer quickly, keeping a cool head, are absolutely requirements. Being fully focused is essential for having a good performance. I don’t think I’m predestined for this Orienteering discipline; I think rather that I gather the necessary skills, which, like everything, can be improved.”

Technical ability, concentration and emotional control

The victory in the Portuguese TempO Championships in 2014 was the best possible start of a journey that is always growing: “Getting the win was obviously a great motivation to continue competing in TempO. I realised that I had the skills to achieve some good results, and that is always an inspiration to keep me trying to improve”, recognises the athlete, while mentioning the qualities needed for performing really well: “You must be accurate in map reading of course, and have good technical orienteering skills. Then you have to know how to apply these skills during a course with lots of challenges, some more complicated than others, whilst trying to remain focused throughout the race; that isn’t always easy. In TempO in particular there is the psychological factor because of the need for speed, which requires emotional control to maintain calm and clear thinking while you’re trying to solve the tasks as quickly as possible.”

In terms of personal taste, it is not surprising that Inês Domingues prefers TempO to PreO. She explains why: “I really prefer TempO because it is more exciting and challenging due to the time factor. Whilst in PreO you have time to analyse the terrain and the problem in detail, in TempO you have to be quick to think and come up with the answer. In addition in TempO you always have room for improvement, both in the number of correct answers and in the time you spend answering. I think that PreO presents some ambiguous situations in the answers, which is a disadvantage. Or it is that I haven’t the ability to solve the problem and eventually get a little frustrated and discouraged”, she confesses.

Croatia, a milestone in her career

2015: another year, the same result. Victory in the Portuguese TempO Championships for the second time in a row opened to Inês Domingues the doors to represent Portugal in the World Trail Orienteering Championships, WTOC 2015, in Croatia. Landing in Zagreb and integrating into this small family that is Trail Orienteering, she was pleasantly impressed, recalling those moments as follows: “It was nice to see that there was an atmosphere similar to the biggest Foot Orienteering events. A large family with people of several nationalities, talking and staying together as if they already knew each other. I ended up having the opportunity to meet many new people as well as many different ways of interpreting the challenges during the competition.”

And then, of course, there is her amazing 7th place in the TempO, achieved without any prior international experience, and the whole set of emotions she experienced. Inês recalls the moments: “I think whether or not you have prior international experience is not decisive in terms of results. I just did the best I could and I ended up being accurate and fast enough for 7th place.” Before the race, Inês had no idea about her skill level compared to her opponents, and recalls that she had felt nervous from start to finish. She was nervous “from the beginning of qualifying to the last problem of the last station” and doesn’t hesitate when asked about her worst experience in the competition: “I think the worst part was the waiting time until I knew that I was in the finalists’ group. I was conscious that my performance hadn’t been as good as I had hoped, and I feared it wouldn’t be enough to reach the final. It was a great joy when I saw I had managed to overcome this hurdle, and so had achieved my first goal. In the final, once again I was dominated by nerves, which I tried to control the best way. I did the best I could and I was very happy when I heard that I was the 7th best in the world, my best result ever in Orienteering so far.”

Edgar and Luis, two prominent names in Portuguese TrailO

From all the performances in Croatia, which ones would you choose?

“I think we should highlight the performances of Edgar Domingues and Luís Gonçalves. Luis, as he could hit a beautiful 6th place in TempO, so reaching the podium, receiving a diploma and putting Portugal at a level never reached before. Also because he achieved a good result in the PreO. Edgar, though he wasn’t able to perform so well in the TempO final, was 8th in the qualifications and that, in my view, has as much merit as in the final – he was the world’s 8th best in that race.”

Are there any athletes in this discipline that you admire in particular?

“It seems to me that the top athletes in Trail Orienteering are all very close to each other, achieving victory with one single mistake or a few seconds quicker at timed controls. So currently I’m not able to highlight an athlete that I especially admire.”

Inês athlete versus Inês organiser

In Portugal, Inês Domingues has her time divided between competition and event organisation, in particular in the role of course planner. When faced with this dual task, Inês has no hesitation in pointing to her preferences: “I confess that I prefer to compete rather than to organise. PreO in particular requires a lot of work and time to organise. In addition I don’t think I am experienced enough yet in PreO to create as good challenges as I would like to. As for TempO I also prefer to compete, although in this case I really do like drawing up the challenges”, she says. But she also recognises that her recent experiences in terms of course setting were very positive, helping her to improve in both PreO and TempO, allowing her “to see the challenges from a different perspective”, according to her own words.

The athlete is certain that “Trail Orienteering is growing in Portugal”, and one of the reasons has to do with the Portuguese presence in the European Championships and World Championships and the good results achieved. “We have had a lot of visibility in recent times, so from something that many criticised for lack of difficulty, TrailO is an increasingly accepted discipline that is recognised as really challenging”, the athlete says. And adds: “We have now several athletes with skills at the highest level and we are certainly among the best in the world. Taking into account the results achieved in Croatia, we are in the top 10 in PreO and the top 5 in TempO”, she says.

A true Orienteering discipline

Do you feel that there is still some kind of bias regarding Trail Orienteering?

“I think there is no longer any bias attached to Trail Orienteering. We can see more and more people trying the discipline and realising that, after all, Trail Orienteering isn’t only an alternative designed to include people with reduced mobility in the world of Orienteering; it is a true Orienteering discipline with as much merit as Foot Orienteering, technically similar or even more challenging. It’s funny to notice the evolution of the comments: while, in the beginning, we heard that ‘this is a sport for the disabled’ and ‘sitting, everyone wins’, a few days ago someone had just experienced a TempO station and told me that ‘after all this is really difficult’, showing himself surprised and exclaiming ‘how can you do it so fast!”

Why aren’t we able to attract more athletes to this discipline?

“As with all new and different things, first it takes time for people to adjust to the idea of a new way of Orienteering and then have the curiosity to try it. Not everyone likes this discipline, because it quickly becomes complicated for the less experienced in map reading. I think a good way to present Trail Orienteering to people, without pushing them to get involved in a sport they don’t know, is to plan a TempO station or a few PreO problems in parallel with a Foot Orienteering event. Then everyone can experience this discipline without pressure or commitment.”

A “simple” goal

Inês is the last athlete inscribing her name in the Portuguese team for the European Championships at Jesenik in the Czech Republic, and the goal for Jesenik seems to be ‘simple’: “Reaching the final and achieving a better result than that I got in Croatia”, Inês says. She explains: “I would be happy with a diploma; getting a medal would be awesome, and listening to the national anthem would be indescribable”. But she knows that things will be anything but easy: “Considering that we’re talking about an international event, I expect to find quite challenging courses with a fairly high level of difficulty that will succeed in differentiating the good from the very good.”

In addition to personal items, the equipment and the compass, Inês will take something else in her luggage, sharing with us her ‘secret’: “As the European Championships coincide with a study period, this will certainly be a week dedicated not only to Orienteering. I have to study during this time in the Czech Republic, mainly Neurology and Psychiatry, as exams are during the week after. In my hand luggage (in which I’ll take all the most precious things) there will definitely be much study material, along with the items I need for the competition.”

I love Trail orienteering, but…

Inês faces a long and bright future, which includes her professional work in the field of Medicine and, of course, Orienteering. “I will definitely continue to do Trail Orienteering as well as Foot Orienteering for a long, long time. Orienteering is part of my life and I don’t see a future that doesn’t include Orienteering”, she confirms.

Finally, please satisfy my curiosity. If, by some absurd rule, you were forced to choose between Foot Orienteering and Trail Orienteering, which one would you leave behind?

“I think that if I had to choose, my option would be to continue Foot Orienteering. I love Trail Orienteering and the fact that it is very challenging technically, but nothing replaces the feeling of running with a map in the middle of the nature, experiencing both physical and technical challenges.”

Text and photo: Joaquim Margarido

[See the original article at Published with permission from the International Orienteering Federation]

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