With all attentions already focused on Strömstad, where within four days the World Orienteering Championships will start, we take note of Emily Kemp's goals. Small in stature but huge in will, the Canadian athlete talks about her improvement in the recent years and how she sees the participation in what will be her 5th presence in the most important competition of the international calendar.
When, in November 2012, the Portuguese Orienteering Blog published an interview with you, I was far from imagine that this would become the most viewed post ever in the blog's history. In this interview [which can be read HERE], you talked about your trip to France to join Thierry Gueorgiou 's training group, the bronze medal at JWOC 2012 and the great challenge you faced at that time, the transition to the Elite. And you stated, without hesitation: "I take advantage of every opportunity I get." Do you still keep the same attitude towards life and the opportunities that are emerging?
Emily Kemp (E. K.) - I had to smile when I read through my answers to your questions four years ago. Already back then I had realized that I had difficulties taking my foot off the gas pedal when it came to training but I think I’m still in the learning process even now! I love pushing the limits when I’m training and thankfully I’m starting to have enough experience to differentiate between when I can push myself and when I should be taking a step back. I still love what I do and I still get as much happiness from new experiences and challenges that enable me to grow as an athlete and as a human being.
When you look back to that precise moment, what idea came immediately to your mind?
E. K. - If you’re referring to the JWOC bronze medal, then funnily enough, I was just thinking back to that race a few days ago. I was remembering my feelings before the start and what emerged was almost a sort of innocence and naivety. I had known that I had prepared well for the terrain in Slovakia and I was just so eager to get back out into the forest and orienteer as cleanly as possible. There had been no expectations for results or pressure for winning a medal; it was just me trying to contain my excitement before going out to play my favourite sport. It’s been important for me to remember what that felt like so that I don’t get caught up in my own expectations and those of others. If I could get that feeling before every race, then I know that I would be doing something right.
What are the differences between the Emily in 2012 and the Emily now?
E. K. - In 2014 I moved countries once again to Turku, Finland in order to take my orienteering one step further and train full-time in Nordic terrain. It was difficult to say goodbye to all the wonderful people I had met in France and to a place that I had come to call home but I knew that it was something that I had to do if I wanted to continue developing as an orienteer. And after two years in Finland I do feel like I’m growing into the Emily that I’m supposed to be.
During this time, what results in particular do you recall?
E. K. - My 11th place in the Middle at WOC in Italy was an important moment for me to realize that I was getting closer to the top women in the world but that I still needed a bit more work to really close the gap. WOC last year in Scotland was also a big learning experience as to how much my mental preparedness can really affect my races.
Recently, it was possible to see you competing in the European Orienteering Championships, achieving excellent results. How do you evaluate your current shape?
E. K. - I think that I took a big step physically this winter. I was trying really hard to listen to my body and when I felt good then I gave it my all and when I felt tired then I took the rest that I needed. For me it’s been a gradual progression of my physical shape through the years of training. It was a big surprise when the competition season started and my name was higher up on the result list than usual. One thing that doesn’t really change no matter what shape you are in is the pain you have to endure when pushing full speed in the forest!
What one or two things do you currently do in your training that are keys to your success?
E. K. - I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the progression of my specific technical, physical and mental goals throughout the training and competition season. Every training had a particular objective and I made sure to follow through afterwards to know what was a success and what I still needed to work on. I was able to fine-tune a lot of my routines and gain confidence in my abilities before competing. I’ve also been doing a lot of meditation which helps to keep my thoughts from racing around and to bring my focus back to the task at hand while orienteering.
The World Orienteering Championships are approaching. What is your biggest challenge, and how do you try to manage this challenge?
E. K. - As the World Champs have been getting closer and closer I’ve quickly realized that my biggest challenge is myself. Every race I ran this season I was running as if it were a WOC race which helped me to practice performing under pressure. I haven’t run any competitions in the last two months and all of a sudden I started obsessing: “The real World Champs are coming! What do I do now?!” It’s been a good lesson to remember that orienteering will always just be orienteering no matter whether it’s a small regional race or WOC. I’ve also had to work hard on being able to let go of whatever my expectations are, to realize that I can’t control the results of other competitors and that my job is to do my best orienteering from start to finish.
What kind of Championships are you expecting and how do you set your goals?
E. K. - I’ve spent a lot of time in the terrain around Strömstad, Sweden (home of WOC 2016) and I really love it there. I’m hoping for some great challenges physically and technically. It feels like a terrain that really requires one’s utmost attention and ability to react and adapt; to find the fastest routes and execute them with confidence. After all the trainings and races I’ve done in the area I’ve been able to set out my technical, physical and mental goals that I need to focus on in each race.
What would be your ultimate achievement?
E. K. - If I’m able to bring my excitement for orienteering to the start line, if I can be focused on my goals and the task ahead during my warmup, if I can stand at the -1min line and remember that I know what to do and that all I need to do is take the map and do it, if I can keep my concentration on my own race right to the finish line then that’s all I can do and the rest isn’t up to me… but a little luck helps too!