Sunday, July 03, 2016

IOF Athlete of the Month: Maja Rothweiler

Since 2009, Maja Rothweiler has been a constant presence in major international MTBO events. With a rich history in terms of achievements overall, Maja still seeks her first individual medal at a World Championships, and the next opportunity comes in Portugal at the end of July. In the article, Maja Rothweiler recalls past highlights, and talks about her present life and how she is aiming for a successful future.

Name: Maja Rothweiler
Country: Switzerland
Residence: Moosseedorf
Date of Birth: 2nd September 1984
Discipline: MTB Orienteering
Clubs: OLC Kapreolo, Thömus Racing Team
Career Highlights: World MTB Orienteering Championships: One gold medal (2011, Relay), two silver medals (2009 and 2012, Relay), one bronze medal (2013, Relay), 5th place (2010, Long Distance), 6th place (2013, Long Distance). European MTB Orienteering Championships: Two bronze medals (2011, Relay and 2013, Long Distance), 4th place (2009, Relay), 5th place (2013, Relay), 6th place (2013, Sprint). World Cup Overall: 5th (2013), 16th (2014) and 13th (2015).
IOF World Ranking: 7th

Maja Rothweiler is a Swiss orienteer, born on 2nd September 1984 near Zurich. Together with her younger brother she grew up in Kloten, close to Zurich Airport. How the constant comings and goings of aircraft affected Maja’s childhood dreams, leading her to embrace the taste of freedom, the great outdoor spaces and the speed of racing, we do not know. We do know that from an early age Maja and her brother accompanied their parents in countryside activities, mainly hiking, cycling and some easy climbing. Vary the spaces, vary the pranks: “At home we were often outside, playing football or street hockey with our neighbours, all boys”, she remembers.

After finishing her studies as a surveyor eight years ago near Basel, Maja moved to the region of Bern. Here she works about 34 hours a week and trains every day, so free time is limited: “If I find the time I really like reading books, hiking, doing something with my friends, cooking … oh, and I love watermelons”, Maja says with a smile when mentioning the juicy red fruit.

The orienteering ‘bug’

Maja was introduced to orienteering by her father. He practised and loved orienteering before Maja was born. Naturally, she took part in her first competition along with the whole family when she was about eight years old. Recalling her memories, Maja tells us about those very first moments: “I can remember them very well. It was at the Badener OL and in the family category we had a pause to grill sausages. At that moment I caught the orienteering ‘bug’! Soon after I started to go to the weekly training of OLC Kapreolo. Here I made some very good friends and we had a really great time together.”

The meetings grew in number, the support of the family increased and the number of friends was growing. And the time to run the first race alone arrived. A moment – and a funny story – that Maja will never forget and is keen to share: “About my first competition that I did alone: the lady at the start drew the controls on my map. Unfortunately, she drew one wrong (I can’t remember how wrong it was…). Even so, I managed to find all the controls (laughs).”

The ‘click’

Moving on from Foot Orienteering, MTB Orienteering has been a bigger story in Maja’s life as an athlete. She used to go mountain biking as an alternative when she wasn’t able to run due to injury. In the summer of 2008 there were two MTBO competitions just around the corner from where she lived. Her former coach suggested that she should try MTBO, so she started on the Saturday in a short category which she won. On the Sunday she tried the Elite class, in a race that scored for the IOF MTBO World Ranking. Maja got third place behind two of the best MTBO’ers ever, Christine Schaffner, Switzerland and Michaela Gigon, Austria. “To my pleasure, most of the tracks were really easy to ride on and the physical component was especially important. It was really great that Christine took some time to show me her route choices after the races”, she remembers.

In the autumn Maja did her third race, and in the spring of 2009 we could find her at the MTBO Camp in Denmark. She recalls those important moments: “I really enjoyed the training there and profited a lot from it. I think the moment when it all ‘clicked’ for me was between the European MTBO Championships in Denmark and the World MTBO Championships in Israel in 2009.”

Accidents can happen”

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

“For me it’s the combination of orienteering and the high speed on the MTB. If you don’t see a junction in MTBO or you make a mistake, you have to adjust your route or to turn. That’s one of the biggest differences from Foot-O, where you can usually adjust your route with only a small time loss.”

Isn’t MTBO a dangerous sport?

“MTBO takes place in country terrain and the speed is high. There, accidents can happen due to the speed, mistakes riding the bike or crashes. But in my opinion MTBO is not a very risky sport. Accidents can happen in every other sport too – or if you are just crossing the street or cleaning the windows. The risk of crashes is, in my opinion, lower in the Elite classes than in the Open categories, as it’s more on our mind on which side we have to give way. While my father is in favour of MTBO, my mother would prefer that I didn’t do the sport at this level.”

Good memories, bad memories

There have been a lot of really good moments in Maja Rothweiler’s career so far, and hopefully a lot more will follow. Maja has very good memories of her first WMTBOC in Israel: the really nice terrain, the very well organised competitions, the first absolutely unexpected medal in the Relay, and the pools in the finish areas. Oops, I almost forgot: And the watermelons! Another race that Maja really liked was the very interesting Sprint in Tapolca, during the Hungarian round of the World Cup in 2011. And, naturally, the Relay gold at the WMTBOC in 2011 in Italy, together with Christine Schaffner and Ursina Jäggi, and the bronze medal in the Long Distance at the EMTBOC in 2013 in Poland.

When asked for her worst moment, Maja needs some time to think: “I always try to see something positive in everything I do … Following a bad international year, I was very well prepared for the Middle Distance at the European MTBO Championships in Portugal last year. After a start with some small mistakes, I rode over a stone on my way to the 4th control and got an unrepairable flat tyre. It was the first time that I couldn’t finish a race due to mechanical problems. I hope it was the only one – fingers crossed”, she says.

Preparing for races

Maja’s preparation is divided into different training phases. In general, she trains for three weeks with increased time and intensity followed by a week of easy training. A normal week (just the physical part) looks like: Monday evening – strength; Tuesday evening – cycling with the local bike club; Wednesday afternoon – cycling or running (or combination); Thursday afternoon – cycling and strength; Friday morning – deep-water running or some other kind of recovery; Saturday – warm up for the competition; Sunday – competition.

Christine and Beat Schaffner are Maja’s coaches. She gets training plans from them and does the preparations and analysis for the important races. “I can profit a lot from their experience and I’m really happy about the situation”, she recognises.

But in MTBO, as in the other orienteering disciplines, it’s not certain that the physically strongest wins the race … The technical and the mental elements are also very important. “For me, one of the most important things in the mental part is to be able to focus myself on the present moment. That means, not thinking about something that happened before (e.g. a probably sub-optimal route choice) or about the weather, for example. It’s also very important to be well prepared for the upcoming major events (study of the maps, etc.) and also to analyse my competitions and training so as to improve”, Maja tells. But the mental part is also very important during the training phase: “Occasionally I don’t feel so motivated to go training when the weather is bad, or I have had a hard working day, etc. On these occasions it’s very important to pull myself together and go out training. The motivation comes then, mostly at some point during the training”, she adds.

A good start to the season

In May we could see Maja performing really well in France in the first round of the World Cup, achieving 4th place in the Middle Distance and 5th in the Long and the Mixed Relay. And she seems to be very happy with her results at the beginning of a new season: “I’m very happy with my performances and results in France. After two really difficult months, I never expected that my shape would be so good already. That makes me confident for the WMTBOC”, she asserts.

How was your preparation in the winter season and particularly for this event?

“Until February my winter training was really good and I felt to be in the shape of my life. After that I got sick rather a lot, unfortunately”.

Next stop: Portugal

The next big challenge is the World MTB Orienteering Championships, and Maja can already feel some good vibrations about that. “I’m really looking forward to the World Championships. After being in Portugal in March during the World Ranking Events, I was there once more in June for a training camp in the region. So I should be very well prepared”, she says. Portugal seems to be like a talisman to Maja: in 2010 she won her first diploma at Long Distance in a WMTBOC and last year, in the EMTBOC Long Distance, it was her first race for almost a year without any big mistakes.

Well-organised competitions, nice terrain, interesting route choices. These are three things that Maja is looking forward to at the Portuguese event. Challenges, goals and adversaries are three other aspects: “I think the Sprint is the distance where I’m weaker. I especially look forward to the Relay and the Long Distance. I want to have races with which I am satisfied – I’m my own biggest adversary and I will concentrate on my own. I want to be satisfied with my performances, and be able to say that I gave my best”, she says.

Three questions, three answers

In a land of huge FootO names, what does it mean to be a Swiss MTB orienteer?

“Mostly, acceptance of what we are doing is okay – and the others should try it first before they judge! Our financial support in the National Team is good. Furthermore, I’m very happy to have some personal sponsors. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to finance this very nice sport along with working as a surveyor”.

How do you evaluate the current level of MTBO in your country? And world-wide?

“In Switzerland we rarely get new young talents; that’s a pity. On the other side, it’s very difficult to get permission to organise a MTBO event. Furthermore, most of the tracks are very easy to ride on, so you have a lot of time to read the map. To make progress it’s very important for us to go to other countries. I think also it’s a problem world-wide that there aren’t so many young athletes and it’s an expensive sport compared to Foot-O. I think therefore we need more spectators, more publicity. For the spectators there should be a big screen in the finish area with the GPS tracking and also some video or pictures. But also live results with GPS on the internet – as is now mostly available. In my opinion the Czechs did a really great job last year at the WMTBOC – especially with the Sprint”.

If you had the power, would you change anything in the MTB Orienteering current rules?

“The start procedure for Mass Start. It shouldn’t be as in France at the Mixed Relay. There should be consequences for the people who turn the map over too early, etc. The next point has nothing to do with the rules, but I believe it is very important that the organisers control the race efficiently, avoiding unfair behaviour and disqualifying those people who try to cheat”.

The perfect race

To have fun is what matters most, and Maja is not worried about the future. “I will continue with MTBO as long as my motivation lasts”, she asserts, while she’s still searching for the biggest dream: “To have a perfect race.” To finish, a wish to all MTB Orienteers all over the world: “That there are no serious accidents, and that the acceptance of MTBO will increase”, she says.

Text and photo: Joaquim Margarido

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

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