Saturday, August 06, 2016

IOF Athlete of the Month: Pavel Kurfürst

When Pavel Kurfürst was 13, his mother tried to help him find a good sport. He wasn’t a very sporty child, so it looked like being a difficult task. Luckily there was someone close to the family very active in orienteering, and so he found the right sport quite quickly. From that very first moment up to the European gold medal in TempO, achieved in May, it’s a fascinating journey of discovery and adventure.

Name: Pavel Kurfürst
Country: Czech Republic
Home town: Dvur Kralove nad Labem
Date of Birth: 6th June 1974
Occupation: GIS specialist in Czech Hydrometeorological Institute (Air Pollution Division)
Hobbies: Board games; alternative rock music; books – modern fiction
Discipline: TrailO
Club: VSK CVUT Fakulta Stavebni Praha (FS Prague)
Career Highlights: Gold in TempO, ETOC 2016; 19th in PreO, WTOC 2015; 48th overall in ECTO 2015.

To see Pavel Kurfürst’s first steps in Orienteering we have to go back around 30 years, joining him in one of the biggest green areas of Prague, Petrin Park. He recalls that very first and unique experience: “The coach pushed me to choose the shorter and easier course, but I didn’t make a single mistake, so I proved that her decision was wrong and she soon realised that I could learn to orienteer very quickly.”

As he started to learn to orienteer – sometimes too quickly (!) – it led to several funny moments. Again Pavel has his memories: “Already in my first year in orienteering I was chosen for our club’s second team to run the first leg of a big relay competition. The mass start was a new challenge for me and I got completely lost on my way to the first control. I couldn’t find myself on the map even in the expected winning time, but I was able to return back to the competition centre. I was really ashamed, so I ran through the finish and didn’t say anything to my team-mates. You can imagine how angry they became when they found out the truth.”

Good to her, good to him

Pavel encountered Trail Orienteering in 2007, at a time when Czech TrailO was taking its first steps towards the organisation of the World Trail Orienteering Championships in Olomouc in 2008. At first it didn’t get Pavel’s attention and so it was out of his plans. Then in 2009, just married, he and his wife Magda went on honeymoon to Lofoten Islands in Norway, with a stop for the multi-day orienteering event Midnattsolgaloppen. Pavel ran the full Foot-O programme, but Magda focused only on the short-distance stages and, on the Long Distance day, she tried the TrailO event instead. As it seemed good to her, it seemed good to him and both attended several Czech events afterwards.

Imagine that I was a friend of yours, knowing nothing about TrailO. How would you explain it to me?

“After my Jesenik win, this situation actually happened to me several times as word got round. In my explanation I focus only on TempO, showing it in brief as ‘sitting Orienteering’, as all my friends already know quite a lot about Orienteering from listening to me.”

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

“TrailO is something special and really important for me. I like to have fun in the races, along with athletes from the Paralympic class. I’m glad that this ‘special orienteering sport’ exists, where we can practise together regardless of handicaps.”

A matter of curiosity

To Pavel, map reading and precision are two key skills for performing well in Trail Orienteering. “I’d put map and terrain reading as a bit more important than precision,” says Pavel, who assesses himself as “quite an experienced orienteer, and my map- and terrain-reading skills are at a reasonably good level for practising TrailO successfully.” He admits that “it would be helpful if I was more accurate in some ways. I still make a lot of formal mistakes such as mis-punching, not reading the whole control description or mis-counting the kites, for example.”

Pavel doesn’t have a specific Trail Orienteer who he admires the most, but he feels lucky to have quite strong competitors as team-mates, so that he can learn something even in local competitions. “Generally, I admire experienced course planners more than competitors,” he says. That’s maybe why he’ll never forget the course planner Tomáš Leštínský’s course in Křivice in 2010. “Even with my current experience, I would say it was a really hard course. I made a lot of mistakes and found myself in the lower part of the standings. I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I didn’t understand how to solve many of the tasks properly, so I didn’t want to give it another try. On the other hand, I was curious to see if I just couldn’t do much better next time. For what followed, of course, it was important that my curiosity won,” Pavel recognises.

I didn’t expect the gold at all”

Pavel Kurfürst was one of the stars of the recent European Trail Orienteering Championships and his win in the TempO was a huge surprise for everyone. Even for him: “I didn’t expect the gold at all. In fact, a top-10 result would still have been very pleasant for me,” he confesses. To compete on home ground was an extra motivation: “It was important for me that some FootO friends cheered me on. My surprising result has got a bit more attention from the Czech orienteering community by being achieved on home ground,” he admits.

Was Pavel well prepared for the Championships? The answer looks like a yes: “I attended quite a lot of competitions last season. I missed only one weekend of the Czech Cup, I competed a lot in Slovakia, I was at the Fin TrailO, at ECTO and WTOC in Croatia. This spring I set two TempO courses and one PreO course in Prague,” he says. Even so, he had some bad feelings because he didn’t compete from October to May. “Nevertheless my ‘last minute’ preparation, with two TempO competitions in May just before the European Championships, changed them into good feelings,” says Pavel, a smile on his face.

The decisive moment

The 25th of May was a very important day in Pavel’s life. Was his mood perfect when he woke up in the morning? Was he ready to win? Pavel can’t remember the details. The high level of concentration during the races, both Qualification and Final, and the strong emotions after the Final have somewhat erased his memories. But he remembers he couldn’t get to sleep and woke up early. “So I was not sufficiently fresh and ready,” he guesses. Pavel made a couple of mistakes in the Qualification heat, but not the sort of embarrassing mistakes that are recognised just after punching the answer. “On some tasks I felt I didn‘t understand the map clearly and I took some risky decisions,” he admits. However his 7th place put him easily amongst the 36 competitors in the Final.

“For the Final it was important for me that I didn’t start among the last competitors, as I would be much more nervous,” he recalls, before talking about the Final itself. “I believe that I get better results in open terrain with good visibility, so the terrain of the Final suited me quite well. It was great that I avoided making mistakes even on those tricky tasks,” remembers Pavel. After a great performance, Pavel arrived at the last cluster in second place, 20 seconds behind the leader, Martin Jullum of Norway. “I remember I felt really stressed out coming to the final cluster. Luckily I got over that while having the maps in my hands and I was able to solve all the tasks correctly, which was decisive for my victory,” he says.

I would like to dedicate the win to the trail orienteers in wheelchairs”

Pavel doesn’t like ceremonies, he prefers more spontaneous actions and happenings. But even as a person who feels somewhat embarrassed when given an award, the situation of being on top of the podium, the gold medal on his chest, listening to the Czech national anthem was “a really special moment for me and I enjoyed it,” Pavel says. “In some ways, I can compare it to the win in the legendary Czech FootO competition “Vodnansky kapr” when I was seventeen (laughs). But in the last 25 years, the most important moment by far is this TempO gold,” he asserts. In this “most important moment”, some significant words go to a small but really important group: “I would like to dedicate the win to the Trail Orienteers in wheelchairs, who are trying hard for years to achieve a good result in the biggest competitions. They are used to fighting much more than me, with precarious health or terrible track conditions,” Pavel declares.

In a country of great Foot Orienteers, being a Trail Orienteer brings some difficult tasks. “I often prepare a TempO competition linked with a FootO event, hoping that some of the best technically skilled orienteers would try it, and realise that it’s good fun whilst technically demanding at the same time. I haven’t succeeded much in this task after many attempts, but I still don’t give up,” says Pavel.

ETOC’s achievements and the course planner Tomáš Leštínský

If I asked you to choose the recipient of the European Trail Orienteering Championships’ Achievement Prize, who would it be?

“Along with the question on which athlete I admire the most and my answer that I admire more course planners than athletes, I would tend to give ETOC’s Achievement Prize to the course planner Tomáš Leštínský. If you insist on giving the prize to an athlete, I would choose Martin Jullum and his silver medals, both in PreO and TempO. I’m not so much into the TrailO medal stats, but I guess this is a quite unique achievement”.

How do you rate the ETOC overall?

“I would like to emphasise the terrain choices for both PreO stages. I know the possibilities of the Jesenik area and these terrains were amazing. Tomáš really stands out regarding his ability to choose the best terrain. Unfortunately the Czech team had severe troubles with these terrain choices (there was a PreO competition in 2012 in part of the Zlate Hory terrain). I assess the maps as very good. I lost two points because of misunderstanding the mapping of some vegetation, and I spotted a problem of contour mapping on one control point. So in my opinion the maps were not perfect, but knowing the process of preparing maps I realise that maps can’t always be 100% accurate. One serious problem in the organisation was the delay in calculating the relay results. As I was competing on home ground, I sometimes spotted troubles in organisation but these I consider as minor problems. I don’t see the lack of media attention as embarrassing, but I understand it’s a problem for the others. I’m realistic: you can compare the difference in people’s interest for TrailO and FootO and judge the attention of the media from this point of view.”


Taking a look at TrailO as it is at present, Pavel doesn’t feel happy with the way things are being conducted in his country and suggests changes. “I’m afraid I’m not strong enough to change it for myself, even with the (questionable) power of my gold medal,” he says. Another thing he would like to change, but again doesn’t have the power, is the definition of the Paralympic class and the big difference between ‘seated’ and ‘standing’ Paralympic competitors: “I’m not an expert on that, but I would like to encourage some action by the people who have the power for change,” he claims.

Otherwise, he sees the difference between PreO and TempO as a big problem. “I like PreO as the older classic format and more natural for the Paralympic class, but in my opinion PreO is a really inappropriate product for promoting TrailO to Foot Orienteers. On the other hand, many experienced Trail Orienteers slightly overlook the potential for the TempO format with Foot Orienteers, which is a big theme for me,” Pavel says.

WTOC thoughts

Shortly we will have the WTOC in Strömstad, Sweden. Are you already feeling some good vibrations about that?

“I still have more post-ETOC rather than pre-WTOC feelings. Maybe after this interview I will focus on the WTOC more – hopefully!”

What kind of event are you expecting?

“Amazing terrain and well worked-out courses, with a strong emphasis on fair tasks with clear zeros.”

Who will be your main adversaries?

“Definitely the terrain and the mapping style.”

What would be a great result for you in WTOC?

“My usual answer: I don’t focus on results as a primary goal. I will try not to get nervous about the TempO in the way that I feel I need to confirm that the result from Jesenik wasn’t accidental. In the Swedish terrain I would be very pleased with a stable performance in both PreO stages.”

The future

The last part of the Interview is about the future. WTOC is the main focus for now, but Pavel already feels the need to rest after the Strömstad campaign. “I have focused too much on TrailO since 2015. I have spent a lot of time preparing several TrailO competitions too. I certainly won’t quit TrailO totally, but I won’t attend as many competitions as now,” he says. But Pavel is already looking forward to ETOC 2018 in Slovakia: “I have some special feelings about it as I’ve attended many of the recent Slovakian TrailO competitions,” affirms Pavel.

One last question: In what way are you a different person now than you used to be before the gold?

“Maybe I’ll answer this question in a slightly different way, as on this subject people around me could give better comments, I think. I would like to use what happened to change my approach to TrailO a bit. I would like to move the focus from my own results to those of the team, hopefully it would be more helpful.”

Text and photo: Joaquim Margarido

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

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