Orhan Kutlu personifies the will and firmness of the young Turkish Orienteering. Interviewed by the Portuguese Orienteering Blog, he talks about his still short career and thinks about what the future may bring with ambition and confidence.
I would start by asking you to introduce yourself. Who is Orhan Kutlu?
Orhan Kutlu (O. K.) - Hey! I'm Orhan Kutlu, a 21 year old orienteer, trying to find the paths towards my dreams. I was born in Bolu, where there's perfect nature to live and train in. I currently live in Istanbul and study business administration. I'm always searching for ways to improve and learn.
How did you meet Orienteering and why did you become “addicted” to this sport?
O. K. - I discovered orienteering when I was in the Military High School at the age of 16. Our commander asked for students interested in Orienteering that were “good at maths and geometry”. While I wasn't that good at both subjects, I said “yes” because I wanted to be close to my friends and train. It was a perfect decision, not only because it gave me the opportunity to travel and stay away from the military atmosphere but also because I grew fond of orienteering and its philosophy.
How would you describe your training and competition routine?
O. K. - Actually, I've only started training seriously last year or two years ago, so I need more time to learn what is good or bad for my training and race routine. I can say that we have good conditions in Turkey during the Winter and we're able to train without snow. In this time of the year, I try to run more. I always train with the same group, so I try to attend races with different and strong runners, to get to know my performance level more clearly.
What's the biggest challenge you're facing now?
O. K. - I'm facing two major problems right now. The first one is not having high quality orienteering trainings. I'm always training in the same maps, which can be boring sometimes. I try to do as much mental trainings as possible to become familiar with different kinds of maps. The second one is the selection system for the National Team. The selection races are too early, with the season starting in November!!! We must be in good shape and injury free at the beginning of the season; on the other hand, it's always a great challenge to reach the top shape in the Summer. There are eleven selection races along the year and the worst two courses are discarded. You can be the best, but if you get injured in three of them, your chances of getting a place in the team for the International Championships are over. We also have an eight-kilometre track test, scoring for the selection system and the percentage in the overall system is quite high. Coaches are always more interested in athletes' physical performances than in their navigational skills, which is another huge problem.
Among all the moments in your career, which ones would you choose as the most relevant?
O. K. - I don't have too much experience, but I would choose the 3rd place at O-Ringen Middle Distance.
Turkey is, perhaps, the country in the World where Orienteering has the highest growth rate. What caused this “boom”?
O. K. - Orienteering is getting more and more popular in the last years. We have many enthusiastic runners and coaches, they put a big effort in making orienteering well-known. Our Federation also started sending more runners to international races, which makes them realise what is happening in the Orienteering World. In spite of the 'boom' in Turkey, it's really hard to train at a high level. If you want to get a little support, you have to accomplish a great achievement. Athletes who show potential to grow don't get support to be better; they're just supported when they are already great. So, if there is a good one during the upcoming seasons, it will probably be because of that athlete's own effort.
Imagine that you're the person in charge of preparing Turkey's application to organize the World Orienteering Championships. Would it be a forest or a sprint WOC? Which region would you choose for the event's venue?
O. K. - I'm sure that Turkey has potential to organize international competitions, both Sprint and Forest. I would organize the Sprint WOC in the middle eastern part of Turkey, especially in Gaziantep, because we could combine culture and demanding orienteering in the narrow and really confusing streets. For the Forest WOC I would choose my hometown, Bolu, because we can find very varied kinds of terrains there. You could have some problems breathing properly because of the breathtaking scenery and high altitude. I live in Istanbul and I like the terrains here; also Antalya, which is a well-known region to orienteers and offers very good conditions. The different climates we have cause us to find different and really interesting terrains.
How do you see the current moment of Turkish Orienteering and how do you expect it to evolve in the medium and long term?
O. K. - Our runners are searching for more and they train more, even though they don't have good conditions. The enthusiasm they have makes our future brighter. There were only one or two good runners in each category during the last years, but this year there are five or six runners fighting for the top positions. If we continue like that, we'll reach impressive performances in the 2020's. The clubs are starting to organise more trainings and support more athletes. SkiO, MTBO and TrailO are also getting better every year. We have good MTBO athletes but, here, they don't get enough support.
Can the climate of tension and the terrorist attacks that have targeted Turkey be a threat to Orienteering's growth?
O. K. - Of course it affects Orienteering in the worst way. The news are always showing what's happening everywhere, which can be a problem for competitors from abroad. However, you can find excellent conditions for Training Camps and races in Turkey and our sport is a really safe one. Antalya O'Days and Mediterranean Championships in Orienteering will not be attended by so many runners. Hopefully, we'll have more runners from abroad in the following years.
Have you already started to plan the new season?
O. K. - I had a calf injury, so I didn't train for more than a week in the early season. Apart from that, my preparation is going well. Till March, I will just have selection races and my Turkish club, Kuzey Geyikleri DSK, will organize a Training Camp, that will be attended by Thor Norskov. In the beggining of March, I'll participate in the MOC Camp and races. During the Spring, my biggest aim is to be part of the team for my club, Angelniemen Ankkuri, in the big relays. To run in such big races would be a dream come true and I'll give my best for it. I'm also planning to have Training Camps with Angelniemen Ankkuri and Arturs Paulins during the Spring.
What are your biggest goals for 2017?
O. K. - I'll be focused on the World Championships, of course, but firstly I must perform well in the selection races. Then, the remaining and most important part regarding the future will be the learning and practising time in Scandinavian terrains in order to improve my technique.
Imagine that you get full support to prepare the World Orienteering Championships in a foreign country. Which country would you choose and who would you like to see in your training group?
O. K. - During the early season, I would have two or three Training Camps in relevant terrains. One camp would be in Turkey, for sure, and the other camps would be in Portugal and Spain. I've never been there but I'm sure I would enjoy my time there and would take great benefits from it. For my training group I would choose my Turkish friends Ozgur Fettah, Huzeyfe Sigirci and Furkan Topal, for cooking and washing dishes (laughs). I would also invite Arturs Paulins and Thor Norskov, for sure. If they were able, it would be perfect to train with Edgars Bertuks and Thierry Gueorgiou.
Would you like to share your biggest dream with us?
O. K. - To reach the top places in the 2020's. I dream about reaching the Middle Distance podium at that time. I want to show to our youngsters that we are able to reach good places in the major World competitions. I always felt that as a duty.
[Photo: Roland Güdel]