The Portuguese Orienteering Blog takes a break, forgetting the athlete's point of view and moving to the other side of the barricade to meet the organizer. Roma Puisiene is our guest today. She was the Event Director of the final round of the 2016 World Cup in MTBO Orienteering and she will be the Event Director of the World MTB Orienteering Championships next year. A long interview where we approach the organizational details of a big competition and where Vilnius, Lithuania, is expected to host the best World Championships ever.
A couple of weeks after the final round of the 2016 World Cup in MTB Orienteering, in Kaunas, I would ask you to recover some memories. What do you keep in mind from those moments?
Roma Puisiene (R. P.) - As we are talking after a great resting holiday with my family, more than two months following the event, all the bad and hard things almost faded away. However, the thing I remember most is the sky-rocking stress level of the last three weeks and during the event. I would compare it with my first professional experience when, freshly from the business school, I was appointed to the executive team to start TELE2 in Lithuania having zero network coverage and just four months to prepare the whole operation. In such cases, I just follow my mantra: “Do the best you can / it will be over one day / think how it would look in your life in a five-year perspective”. Other thing that comes to my mind is the people. It’s really nice to work with an enthusiastic team who believes in Orienteering and devotes its time and energy to make the event as flawless and enjoyable as possible. I love people with this vision, never cutting back on quality, even if, sometimes, the quality standards are just imaginary and the pressure and workload are hardly manageable. I was lucky because most of the team was made up of people like that.
You joined the hashtag “#1weeksleepless” to a picture of yours on Facebook. How was to handle with the pressure at the moment to welcome the best MTB orienteers in the World?
R. P. - It wasn’t the first time facing stressful periods. They come and go, both in professional and private life. I was lucky not being pressed by financial burdens. I had, more or less, a balanced budget and I allowed myself to dream, imagining real people – top athletes (!) -, and trying to see everything from their perspective: how would they like the competition to be organized, what would they value, what would they consider the most important.
Along the organization and preparation process, what difficulties did you find?
R. P. - Personally, the most difficult was the technical part, where I had least control - map making and course setting. I don’t see myself as an expert on those issues, therefore I had to trust the team 100%. There wasn’t too much I could do, I just watched the process and, basically, I didn’t have influence on it. Again, the super motivated part of the team saved the situation. It was also quite complicated to attract sponsorships to Kaunas event. I have never seen so many times the door slam in front of me while trying to persuade companies to sponsor the event. Eventually we got enough to cover the expenses but the process was hard and time consuming.
How do you rate the World Cup round overall?
R. P. - From an organizational point of view, I would rate it 7/10. But that concerns more to the internal organizational processes, like division of responsibilities, deadlines, etc. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were hectic and crazy days. Sometimes, I lost my manners and screamed like crazy. Sometimes it helped (laughs). Friday was the worst day of all. We had a very tight allocation of mass start minutes and also troubles with SportIdent. It looked, in the beginning of the day, that everything we built was about to collapse. Considering myself being a non-religious person, I was literally praying to all Gods for the correct readouts of SI cards at the elite competitors' returning. Saturday afternoon I started to relax, thinking that everything was fine.
In general it's very complicated to combine two competitions at once – Masters and Elite. The aim was to organize an Orienteering competition where the Masters could enjoy the Elite quality maps and courses, having a good time in well-equipped arenas where they could share their experiences and emotions. We are talking about a World Masters Championships and we wanted them to be treated accordingly. Hope that the long quarantine - hours for some of the competitors - weren't unbearable burden, but quality time together with like-minded people. From a competitive point of view, I believe that we managed to get the best quality of maps and interesting courses.
The event was, for sure, a valuable experience looking forward to the World MTB Orienteering Championships’ next edition, to be held also in Lithuania and again with you as Event Director. From this perspective, how important was this rehearsal and what lessons did you take from it?
R. P. - It was very important. In Kaunas, I took for the first time the challenge to look into a competition from an organizational point of view. Until then, I was enjoying Orienteering as athlete, not caring really much about the organizational issues. It was just a hobby to which I devoted as much time as I wanted. By accepting these organizational challenges, the perspective changed completely. I got to know many aspects of the competition that, usually, aren’t so visible for the participants. I feel better prepared to face the Vilnius challenge, even though in the beginning I was regretting to have accepted the Kaunas project and to double the workload. Eventually it turned out to be a very positive and useful experience. I can recognize the mistakes that we’ve done, I better see the scope of work, the deadlines and the planning’s critical aspects are clearer now and I’m able to plan the team accordingly.
If you had the chance to go back in time, would you do things differently?
R. P. - Yes, I would have improved some planning and team management.
You've been putting a big effort in advertising MTBO in Lithuania, through the social network sites, radios, newspapers, televisions. Are you satisfied with the result? Can one say that MTBO in your country is better known now than it was one year ago?
R. P. - I hope the efforts have had some positive impact. MTBO is a niche sport and to make it known for the public in general is very complicated. On the other hand, we have to ask about the purpose of the sport being known in Lithuania, which is, in my opinion, to attract children and youth to try it. But for this, infrastructures are needed – dedicated coaches, organized trainings and quality national events. By promoting MTBO at this level, I expected that it will increase the number of participants in the National competitions at least 15-20% after Vilnius World Championships. So, at this stage, it’s really hard to say about the efficiency and effectiveness of the communication effort, as Kaunas World Cup was one of the last competitions of the season. We will renew the communication in Spring, promoting Vilnius event and, in Autumn 2017, we’ll be able to count the chickens (laughs).
What World MTB Orienteering Championships will we have next year? What’s the situation about the Championships? Is there any aspect that makes you worried?
R. P. - I'm aiming for the best World Championships ever. The chosen maps are very interesting and challenging. The most challenging part is the Sprint that will take place in the City centre. I suppose it’s the first time ever that a MTBO World Champs arena will be built in the main square of an European Capital. We will try to add a lot of entertainment to the competition, still combining it with good orienteering quality.
Now that 2016 is almost in the end and the new season is right there, full of personal challenges, I would finish by asking you to share your biggest wish.
R. P. - My biggest wish is to stay healthy, to return to MTBO courses and also to be able to keep the promise I made to myself, to be on the triathlon podium in 2018. Finally I have learned to swim more or less properly and drilling the new skills. I'm getting ready for Vilnius 2017, the business expansion is under way, so life is not going to be boring next year (laughs). And the main challenge is to see the WMTBOC 2017 on one of the major sports channels!