Monday, June 20, 2016

Florian Howald: "My heart beats for the Middle Distance"



To Florian Howald, being part of the Swiss Team is “a privilege” , even if it has prevented him from participating in the most awaited international Orienteering competition. But the World Championships are here and Howald won't miss it this time. The results achieved in the recent European Championships are promising and is ambitiously that the young Swiss looks on the Strömstad's battles.


I would start by asking you a quite simple and obvious question: Who is Florian Howald?

Florian Howald (F. H.) - I am a 25 year old Swiss who learned to love orienteering already as a child through my family. Since 2010 I live in Zurich to combine orienteering with my studies at ETH Zurich where I have one year left for my Master degree in Environmental Engineering. One of my hobbies is the Finnish language since I spend some weeks in Finland every year. Not surprisingly, I also love to relax in the sauna with some friends after a tough training day. Apart from orienteering, I really enjoy doing a nice tour on road bike and mountain bike. In winter I love to XC-Skiing a lot, especially in beautiful Finnish Lapland. I don't have a real life motto, but I answer to this question often with the following sentence: “Feel the Flow of Orienteering”. I think everyone of us has experienced such moments in the forest but still it's difficult to describe in words. The feeling of the focused and positive attitude when everything in the forest just 'flows' also helps me in other parts of life.

How did Orienteering come to your life? Was it love at first sight?

F. H. - My parents took my brother Severin and me already as children to orienteering races, and we liked it a lot. I have good memories about O-camps as a small boy, about family holidays in Scandinavia including orienteering and about winning races in M12; so it must have been love at first sight.

What do you see in Orienteering that makes it so special?

F. H. - I can't imagine other sport where the competition conditions (terrain) vary so much as in Orienteering. This variation in challenges makes the orienteer life really interesting, not only during competitions but more importantly also during the training period. I also like a lot that all over the globe in Orienteering you meet so much friendly people you can get along well with, even when you are fighting against each other during competitions.

Florian versus Severin. How important is your brother in your successful career?

F. H. - I admire my brother Severin a lot. He often shows me how to push my limits, even if the odds are against you. Earlier we were training a lot together, pushing us both forward as 'Team Howald' and sharing problems and work-a-rounds. Severin's passion for orienteering is unique and therefore he has always been and still is my most valuable person for discussing every aspect of Orienteering and other parts of life.

In a land of FootO huge names, what is to be a Swiss orienteer and be part of the National team?

F. H. - Being part of such a strong and very professionally coached Swiss Team I always see it positive and as a privilege. The level in our trainings and camps is extremely high, in the team discussions I can learn from experiences of World Champions and trying to challenge my teammates makes me much stronger. Downside is, of course, that I haven't been able to take part in a WOC yet, but EOC has showed me that being part of the Swiss Team pushes me forward a lot.

We could see you performing really well in the Czech Republic, during the European Championships? Did you expect such results?

F. H. - My result goals are usually defined in winter time, back then I expected from me that I will fight for top6 places in EOC. But when leaving to Jeseník I didn't think about results anymore. I knew that my shape was really good, probably the best shape I ever had so far. So I felt really confident and could just do the job without having any doubts about shape, etc.

I ask you to look back on the Relay gold. Can you remember the strongest moments of that amazing race?

F. H. - There were several moments. The emptiness in the finish after my first leg, happy about my race but not really about the result. Then the moment when Daniel misses and suddenly Baptiste is ahead and on 3rd place. That was a moment of mixed feelings. Then, on the last leg, at the last forking, where Martin made a gap to the other teams was a strong moment since I started to realize we could win this whole thing. The strongest moment though was the joy just after the finish line, telling Martin (who didn't know yet) we had the Gold and celebrating with my teammates.

The media emphasized the fact that the gold was achieved by the Swiss team 2. How intense was that particular battle against Daniel Hubmann and the Kyburz brothers, Andreas and Matthias?

F. H. - I never saw this as a battle between Swiss team 1 and Swiss team 2, but more as a fight of Switzerland against the other teams / nations. We were preparing together and this victory is also a result for the whole team. Of course there were jokes that, anyway, all guys want to be in Swiss Team 2 since last 2 EOCs (2012 and 2014) SUI2 was placed better than SUI1.

Bronze in the Sprint and 5th in the Middle Distance. Have you some thoughts about these two successful races?

F. H. - Recently I have had many sprint races where I was near the lead for some time in the beginning, loosing time and places towards the end to physical reasons or mistakes. I knew that it's a matter of time until I will run my perfect sprint race from start to finish. Before the sprint in Jeseník I felt so confident about the terrain that I thought why not do it today. Luckily after Sprint Bronze I had some time to relax, especially in my head. It was not so easy for me to get back the full focus for the following challenges but with the help of our coaches I did a good job. The Middle Distance was the race I enjoyed most since it was really interesting, with changing challenges and I was really happy with my 5th place.

If I asked you to choose the Orienteering Achievement of the EOC 2016, what would it be from your point of view?

F. H. - The two Gold medals for my teammate Matthias are of course outstanding, especially taking his first medal in a forest-discipline by winning the Middle Distance. I was also really impressed by the finish sprint of Merja Rantanen taking the Relay gold for Finland. Given the fact that she ran all the races during the whole week this was a great achievement.

How do you rate the EOC overall?

F. H. - The EOC was very well organized! The terrains were very interesting, often with varying challenges throughout the races. In my opinion we got offered a lot of pure orienteering with no compromises.

The next big challenge it's called World Orienteering Championships, in Strömstad, Sweden. Can you feel already some good vibrations about that?

F. H. - Yes, indeed it's a challenge. I haven't been to a WOC before, so my main task now is to secure a place in the Swiss Team. But since I love the terrain around Strömstad and feel confident about its challenges, I'm really positive. I'm sure the Swedes will organize a great WOC so I would be so happy to have my debut in Strömstad.

Would you like to share your main goals? Does your bet go to a particular distance?

F. H. - My heart beats for the Middle Distance, and since the Swiss Team has five places (individual places for Matthias and Daniel) I will go hard for one of those. On the other hand I have had my best individual results so far in the Sprint, so I am of course not going to neglect my strengths there.

Who will be your main adversaries?

F. H. - For me, the main adversaries in orienteering are the terrain and the course; this won't be different in WOC in Sweden. Unless I won't be able to run the course in the best possible way, I'll be happy in the finish.

Would you like to share your biggest dream?

F. H. - Maybe a bit stereotype, but in orienteering I dream about standing on the podium and hearing the Swiss National Anthem after running a perfect race. This was so much fun in Czech Republic that I definitely want to experience it again, why not in some WOC or in EOC 2018 on home ground?!

Joaquim Margarido

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