Tall, robust, and with a long beard reminding one of the good old Vikings, the Norwegian Lars Jakob Waaler is one of the most charismatic figures in the small world of Trail Orienteering. His appointment as IOF Senior Event Adviser for the European Trail Orienteering Championships ETOC 2016 is one of the main topics of this review; we also make known some of the moments that made him the trail orienteer he is today. And we look forward to the near future: the competitions to be played out in Strömstad in Sweden next week.
I would start by asking you to present yourself. Who is Lars Jakob Waaler?
Lars Jakob Waaler (L. J. W.) - I am 48 years old, soon 49. I live in Trondheim, in the middle of Norway. I work as a teacher. The only hobby I have the time for, at the moment, is trail-o.
How did Orienteering come to your life?
L. J. W. - My dad was an orienteer when he was young. So, he was the one that took me and my brothers to orienteering. When we were small, we went at "tur-o", which is a permanent course set for all summer. Then you can take as many controls as you like on one day and take more on another day. A very good way to get out in the forest and to start training map reading. When I was 9, I ran my first foot-o competition. The first years I mixed Orienteering with other sports, such as Athletics, Cross Country and Biathlon. But Orienteering became the main sport.
And what about Trail Orienteering? Was there a particular moment, a “click”, when you said to yourself: “That's it, Trail Orienteering is my sport!”?
L. J. W. - I had my trail-o debut in O-festivalen 2003. My parents already have already done trail-o so they suggested that I should try it out. I have always been a better map reader than runner, so they thought that it would suit me. I did quite well in the first couple of competitions and I found it challenging and fun. In 2004, the first WTOC was going to be organised in Sweden, so I wanted to be there. I managed to get into the Norwegian team and have been there ever since. And from that moment trail-o took over more and more as my main orienteering discipline. The last years I have only competed in trail-o.
A friend tells you that Trail Orienteering is “too boring”. What do you have to say?
L. J. W. - I can understand that some people think that. I ask them to try it before they make up their opinion. But I can see that it goes to slow for some people. You need to have skills in map reading and patience to enjoy trail-o. I think that temp-o can can be exciting for some of the people that think pre-o is too slow.
I believe that, along with Martin Fredholm, you're the only competitor present in all editions of World Trail Orienteering Championships. Could you remember two or three strong moments since Västerås, in 2004?
L. J. W. - My best moment in the WTOC was in France 2011 when I won my, so far, only medal (silver) in the team competition, together with Martin Jullum and Arne Ask. Last year in Croatia I was fourth in the temp-o competition. In pre-o I have been fifth in the Czech Republic in 2008 and sixth in Finland in 2006.
Last May, we could see you in Jeseník, Czech Republic, in “the other side of the fence”, playing the role of European Trail Orienteering Championships' IOF Senior Event Adviser. How do you rate the experience from a personal point of view?
L. J. W. - I feel that it was a good experience for me. It’s good and educational to see the sport from new angles, and hopefully I have learnt something that I can use in my competitions in the future.
How hard was your work next the organizing team?
L. J. W. - It was a lot of work. We were on our feet from early morning until late in the evening, but I think the nature of TrailO requires that you put in such an amount of work. There are a lot of details to check every day. All kites, decision points and other details have to be checked and double checked to get the best competition. “We were a small team, which meant that we maybe had to work harder. Tomáš Leštínský and Pavel Dudik worked all the time during the week, and we also had a lot of volunteers who put in many hours out on the courses. It was also very good to have John Kewley as an assistant SEA. It’s very good to have someone to discuss things with. An extra pair of eyes on things is very useful. It also gave us the chance to divide some of the jobs, so that we could manage everything.
Competitors said that ETOC lived “on the shadow” of EOC and didn't exist from a media point of view. Do you feel, somehow, responsible for that? What would you recommend to avoid this kind of situation in the future?
L. J. W. - I think there's both good and bad things about being together. When we are together it gives us a possibility to show our discipline to new people. It also increases the possibility to be shown in the media. But we will be in the background of the EOC. I think that if we had been alone we would have had a larger group of organisers dedicated to trail-o, which would have helped. Finally we had Tomas and Pavel who organised everything.
If you had the power to “rewind the story”, would you do something different now?
L. J. W. - Not any major things that I have in my thoughts for the moment. There is always some small details that you can change to make things better.
The next big challenge it's called World Trail Orienteering Championships, in Strömstad. What are your main goals?
L. J. W. - My goal for the Championships is to get an individual medal, since that is what is missing in my collection,
What kind of event are you expecting?
L. J. W. - I am expecting a good and well organised competition, since the Swedes are very experienced at organising competitions like this. I think the courses will be varied and good from what I have seen from Bosse Sandstrom in the past. I know he has put a lot of work into this event to make good competitions for us.
Who will be your main adversaries?
L. J. W. - I don't think to much about other stuff in front of competitions. You have to beat the ones that has entered if you want to win. The terrain is the same for everybody and I can't change it, I just have to do the best out of what I got. The same for the weather, I just try to prepare for the weather that is.
How do you evaluate the current Trail Orienteering moment?
L. J. W. - Since I started doing trail-o there has been a big development of the discipline. The way to make the problems today has changed a lot from the first years. I think to the better, because today most of the problems are on map reading. It is also good to see that more countries has come into the discipline. We are still a young discipline, developing every year.
Is there a key to call people's attention on Trail Orienteering and its beauty?
L. J. W. - If such key exists, we still haven't found it here in Norway. Because then we would have had more recruitment to trail-o. But we need to be visible for others. I feel that when we get people to try trail-o a lot of them enjoy it, it is just very hard to get them to try.
If you had the power, would you change something in the Trail Orienteering rules?
L. J. W. - I have no special rules that I want to change for the moment. But it is of course important to look for things to make the competitions better and more fair.
What do you think about the future? Are we going to see you doing Trail orienteering for many years?
L. J. W. - I want to compete in TrailO, hopefully at the highest level, as long as I enjoy it. I have no big plans for how long I will keep on, but TrailO is a discipline that you can continue with until old age.
Would you like to share with us your biggest dream?
L. J. W. - I'm not a big dreamer. In TrailO it would be to get my first individual WTOC medal.