Águeda, Portugal, will be one of the epicenters of the World MTB Orienteering Championships 2016 and is also João Ferreira's homeland. With the competition days coming quickly, the excitement grows and the athlete's commitment to give the very best before his public takes some very special nuances. Let us know him better, his goals and dreams, his fights and bets.
You've been to Åhus two weeks ago, taking part in the MTBO Camp 2016. Apart, maybe, the biggest Foot Orienteering Relays (Jukola, Tiomila), isn't very common to see Portuguese athletes in events abroad on their own initiative. How did this opportunity to compete in Sweden happen and how does it fit with your workout plan, assuming that the ultimate goal of the season is the World Championships?
João Ferreira (J. F.) - For several years I’ve thought of attending this training camp. Last year it wasn't possible, but this year I could do it. When I began planning the new season, in November 2015, I put this training Camp/WRE as a major factor in my preparation. This year I bet more on my technical and physical preparation and I think I can only raise my level, training and competing in more international competitions. Even all alone, I travelled to Sweden with the aim of improving the technical component and competing and, at the same time, to compare my levels in the WRE races. I was glad I started to get more consistency in the races and reduce the time for the world's best. The main objective of this season is undoubtedly the World Championships. I know that I need to keep on working and learning! To the Championships, the preparation has to be step by step.
How was the time you've spent in Sweden? Did it meet your expectations?
J. F. - Sweden was basically always either to train or to compete. Altogether, training and competitions, I participated in 8 races in 5 days. I was in that area of Sweden with the national team in 2014 when we ran the World Cup and the O-ringen MTBO. The maps are the most technical I've ever done. The terrain is quite good for MTBO, it is demanding and challenging. Those were incredible days, meeting all my expectations. It was an amazing experience!
How is going the season so far? At what level is your motivation and self-confidence?
So far it has gone well. This year I'm doing different things, with greater depth and specificity. I'm very motivated and confident. I think there was a stage of my sporting career I relaxed a bit and got used to the results I had. Now I want more. I want to feel what I felt in 2008 and 2009 when I got good international results in the Junior Class. When I was National Champion Sprint in April, I realised it was just after some technical changes, monitoring and preparation this season. This motivated me even more.
Your first presence in the World MTBO Championships, in the Elite class, was in Ben Shemen, Israel, in 2009. Since then, you've always been present in the World Championships, except in 2010, in Portugal. Do you still feel sorrow of not having been chosen for the national team that time?
J. F. - If I think about it? Yes, I do. I try not to think about it. I respect the decision of the responsible persons, but I have to admit that those were difficult days. For an athlete who is preparing for more than two years for a competition and then he doesn’t participate, it is very difficult and frustrating. Even more when the competition is in his own country. On the other hand it turns out to be something that motivates me more because I know what it felt like not to go to the Championships so I want to do everything to get to all those which will happen in the future.
If I asked you to draw a parallel between the João Ferreira in 2009 and the João Ferreira today, where are the major differences? And what remains similar?
J. F. - The biggest difference is that João Ferreira 2016 has six World Championships as Elite and all the experience acquired over the years. I learned a lot. I developed myself as a person and as an athlete. I feel I am more prepared. I can feel more focussed. But some things remain the same. The motivation, the desire to be better, the wish to go further and achieve higher performance levels, all this has not changed.
Throughout the last six or seven years, what was the most important moment of your career? And what about the greatest MTB orienteering achievement, that still and always remains in your mind as a source of inspiration and motivation?
J. F. - Over the past years there were some memorable moments either the positive or the negative. 2008 and 2009 were memorable years: several times National Champion, 9th best in the world in sprint (2008 as a junior) and long distance (2009 as a junior), 7 best of Europe (2008 as a junior) and my first participation in a World Championship seniors (2009 but I was still junior). It's hard to pick just one moment but I think it is the 9 thplace in the World Junior Championships in Denmark, in 2009.
Another striking moment and that will always remain in my memory happened last year at the end of the Sprint in the World Championships in Czech Republic. I made a strong preparation for these Championships, I was highly motivated and committed. I had worked a lot and wanted to achieve good results. When I arrived to the Czech Republic I got sick. I did the first training and started getting worse. On Middle Distance race I didn't get a good result and after running under heavy rain I got even worse. I had fever, pain but just thought I wanted to make a good race sprint to get qualified for the long race. I went to sprint race with an idea of “all or nothing”. I didn't do a good result. At the end of this race I was really sad, as never before because of a competition. I was crying because after months of preparation I didn't feel well or was able to make good results. Then I had the good news, I had managed to qualify for the Long final, but at the same time, at the hospital they gave me antibiotics and advised me not to compete because it would increase the risk of sudden death. I had to make a difficult decision. There were still missing two races, the Final of the Long and the Relay event. It was very complicated. I felt really bad. After much thought I talked to the person responsible for the National Team, Daniel Marques, and decided the best would be to go back to Portugal and recover my health, as soon as possible. It was hard but it was then that I decided what I wanted to 2016. It is my source of inspiration. I went back to Portugal, recovered and came back stronger. I feel that in recent years I grew up, I developed my technical skills and I'm more mature as an athlete and a person.
The World MTB Orienteering Championships 2016 will take place “around your house”. What particular emotion do you feel about that? How do you handle the pressure in these situations?
J. F. - Despite living in Lisbon, Agueda will always be my city. It is always good to go to Agueda, so to compete there will be even better. Competing close to home gives me a greater motivation. I feel really good. I think pressure is not the best word. I think I can feel more anxiety for wanting to compete much in perfect condition and achieve good results. Controlling emotions is also something that I am working on, so that everything goes for the best.
What kind of World Championships can we expect?
J. F. - I think there should be a lot of variety. On one hand there may be more mountainous areas, we should certainly find other fairly flat areas. Areas of forest and vineyards. When the terrain is flat you increase the speed and this can add some difficulty to the races, so I foresee very competitive and hard competitions. Portugal has always presented itself with the excellence of organizations; I believe it will be a memorable event and that both Portuguese and foreign athletes will remember these world championships for a long time.
Fighting for the titles, we'll have among us, once more, the best in the World. Who will be the Championships' biggest names, in your opinion?
J. F. - I think there are countries that always have great possibility to discuss titles. When we speak of a World Championship, the level is so high that small details determine the winner. There are a lot of great athletes who can win. I can think of some names that will surely have good results but it's hard to bet on two or three. There are very strong countries with many good athletes as it is the case of Russia, Czech Republic, Finland and France but then we also have very good athletes from other countries like Italy, Estonia, Switzerland, Austria or Portugal and others. Every year the competition increases and becomes even stronger. I think this will be no exception.
J. F. - This year, as I said before, I'm training differently and more specifically. I really want to jump to another level of results. The ambition is great but feasible and possible. I believe I can achieve good results. I am working to strive with the best. I feel that I'm starting to be more consistent and to reduce the times to the winner. I guess I'm on the right way to do a really nice World Championships. I just want to recognise the effort of my sponsors to support me in everything I need. Thank you Merida, Cristalmax SA, Câmara Municipal de Águeda, Ferbikes, Prototype, NextGeneration, Nutrixxion, Abus, Swisseye, Orifix, BicycleLine, Midland, Aportsports, Vittoria, San Marco, Liqui Moly, OXD, Luck, Ozxtreme, Clube de Aventura da Bairrada.
Thank you to my girlfriend, family and friends that always give me more strength and courage to keep going the best as I can. My success is also theirs!
Finally, I would ask you to share with us your biggest wish?
J. F. - I know what I want and where I'm going. I'm finding the way to get there. A wish is a wish, right? So, if I say that I don’t have the wish to be one of the best of the world one day, I would be lying. Laughs. I think all athletes want to win, I'm not different. I know that a result in the top 20 is a very good result but, who knows, the sky is the limit. :)
[Photo: Skogssport MTBO-campen I Åhus's post on facebook.com/Skogssport]