It's always stimulating to hear a young man talking enthusiastically about his passion. Tobias Micko couldn't be more committed to Orienteering, after a short but really promising career. And leaves a warning: “You won't get rid of me that easily!”
I would start by asking you who is Tobias Micko?
Tobias Micko (T. M.) - Well, I was born on 24th March 2000, which means I will turn 17 very soon. I live in Bad Vöslau, a small town south of Vienna. My main ambition lies with MTBO, but currently I am also a student at the Multimedia Department of “Die Graphische”, a kind of college for media-related careers, where I'm getting my education in photography, film, animation, web-design, etc. Obviously, I play around with cameras a lot, but I also like mountain sports like ski touring and backcountry skiing, hiking and other outdoor activities like o-mapping.
When did you find out that MTBO would be your orienteering discipline for life?
T. M. - I think, I'll have to explain that a bit: I grew up in an orienteering family, so I was into it from the beginning. I began to compete seriously aged 12, and when I became a member of the Austrian Youth team aged 13, I was already one of the best orienteers of my age group in Austria. But then I ran into troubles: I have always had knee problems, but by the end of 2014 they got so bad that I had to stop running for some months. At this time I met the Hnilica family, a big name in Austrian MTBO, and started to bike a little. The MTBO youth team didn't have enough members then to form a Relay team for the European Championships 2015 in Portugal – so, after a short time, I was introduced to the sport and became the missing member of the relay (laughs).
Having taken good care of my body, after a few months I was able to run again, so I started training and took part in the ISF School World Championship in Turkey, where my results weren't that bad (I finished 5th and 6th). This was my first experience with orienteering at an international level and I continued with the sport. At that time I didn't have much experience with MTBO, I just competed in some races, but in June I was ready for the European Championships 2015 in Portugal. My results were okay and I continued with biking. I competed in Plzen where I met the whole team for the first time and then took part in the World Championships in Liberec. That autumn we also organized an MTBO competition in my hometown, which was very successful.
For 2016 my main goals were the EYMTBOC in Portugal and the EYOC in Poland. Training went well, but I always felt my knee a little bit – it was never really okay. And there was also this decision I had to make for myself: Which discipline should I focus on. It was a very burdensome time for me, but the problems somehow disappeared. By coincidence, the qualification race for the EYOC I wanted to run was on the same weekend as the first round of the World Cup 2016 in France, and just 5 days before this weekend my knee felt so bad that I decided to compete in France instead of EYOC. The decision had been made! In the first race I won against Thomas Steinthal from Denmark, who had won a diploma at the EYMTBOC the year before. That was an enormous motivation for me! I focused on mountain biking, and six weeks later there was Portugal 2016 …
What do you see in this discipline that makes it so special?
T. M. - You know, every time I read this question in one of your interviews I think the answers are so trivial – but when I have to think about it myself, I have no better idea. It's really the most versatile and most fascinating sport I know. In another interview I once read, “Every sport has its own fascination in itself, without that there would be no sport in our culture”, and that's so true! MTBO is my sport and I am 100% into it!
How hard can MTBO be?
T. M. - If there were just MTBO, it would be completely different. But add to that the daily school routine and my other hobbies I can't give up (even though I should drop some of them), and life becomes really exhausting. Luckily, I have some freedom at my school so I'm able focus on the sport; without that, I wouldn’t go on with my stuff the way I'm doing it right now. When there’s no other possibility, I have to train at 10 pm, after that I get 6 hours sleep and then it's back to a full school day – but luckily that's not the rule.
Do you have an athlete that you see as model, an inspiration?
T. M. - Of course, there are various role models and motivations, everybody has them somehow. For me it’s especially traveling around the world, the trips with the team. You have the chance to reach areas where a “normal” person wouldn't spend their holidays, you are able to meet so many great people around the world – and that is very, very precious to me. As inspirations I want to single out Thomas Hnilica, Kevin Haselsberger and, of course, my family and lots of others … And then there is Jana Hnilica. She’s one of the big upcoming stars of Austrian MTBO and she has found a way of organising her life like nobody else I know. The way she's able to get to grips with a very exhausting school, sport, hobbies and so on is truly incredible!
Looking at the special moments you’ve been through in MTB orienteering until now, could you mention the most thrilling one?
T. M. - One of the most thrilling moments was definitely the relay race at the World MTB Orienteering Championships 2015 in Liberec! I had only just started MTBO and was able to be there at that important moment. There was this incredible feeling when Andreas Waldmann started in third position. We couldn't see the GPS track all the time but we had the live results and at the first live coverage it was like, “He’s only a few seconds behind the leading duo.” And at the second live coverage, “He’s in the lead, Waldi is in the lead!”. After the spectator control he realised his position and finished his race with a comfortable lead – I still have goose bumps when I remember that day.
Going back to July 25th, 2016, in Portugal, what did you feel by achieving the bronze medal in the Sprint race of the European Youth MTB Orienteering Championships?
T. M. - I was just happy! In the beginning it took some time to realise what had just happened.
What makes this result so special for me is that my dedicated training on the bike had only started six weeks earlier, before that I had just taken part in a few competitions, but mainly I had been running. Yes, of course I have some advantages in the navigational part because of my experience with mapping and orienteering, but the sprint distance wasn’t even technical, it was just biking as fast as you can. The only mistake I made was trying to drink a little from my bottle – that lost me a few seconds! But now I'm looking forward to the upcoming season even more, now my full focus is fully on the bike …
Can you remember other good moments in Portugal? And a bad one?
T. M. - I mostly remember all these good moments and stories, and it was a fantastic trip with the team again, but obviously there also were some bad moments, too, especially after the accident in the Middle Distance. The race started very well, I felt the flow and was just in the race – maybe a little bit too much – when, after the 5th control, my handlebar got caught by a tree and I had a bad crash. I managed to get back on track and reach the finish arena, but my leg hurt very much.
Luckily the next day was a rest day and, with the help of our Physio/Trainer Gaby, I could fully concentrate on recovering! Movement helped a lot. My time at the Long Distance wasn't the one I had been looking for, but under the circumstances it wasn't too bad and an 8th place actually isn't that bad – really.
What does it mean to be a MTB orienteer in Austria?
T. M. - I can answer that question with a simple return question: What does it mean to be a (fringe sport) athlete in Austria? – Almost nothing, unfortunately. 70% of sport subsidies go to Football, Alpine skiing and Tennis. Next are all Olympic disciplines and only then, much further down the line, there are all other kinds of sports. Yes, we fight for every Cent, but I think that is necessary. When you have all the money (and therefore facilities) you need, it's easy to be at the top. We get almost nothing and still we can compete with the best of our sport. And it is something very special to fight for your passion with a great team!
I can see you really committed to promoting the Austrian MTBO Days 2017, this July? Would you like to tell me something about it?
T. M. - I will! Spoiler alert: Austrian MTBO days are going to be one of the greatest events of the upcoming season and you all should be part of it (laughs). – Seriously: The idea grew after our MTBO event in Bad Vöslau in 2015. The event was well received by the community and the host city. The upcoming event has grown bigger and bigger over the last months, now it is going to be really big! Obviously our main goal is to make the trip to Austria a memorable one for all of you. Free entry to a famous public spa, top culinary local catering, a high quality evening program and, most importantly, thrilling courses and a very technical forest are waiting for you. We also want to use the event to make our sport more popular in Austria. For this, we have co-operations with some big media names in Austria, and we are very grateful that Portuguese Orienteering Blog is also part of the show – thanks for the co-operation!
Can it be compared to MTBO 5 Days Plzeň? What are your expectations?
T. M. - Well, that's a tough question! It's something completely different. Plzen has for many, many years been one of the most popular MTBO events, and personally I am very disappointed that I can't be part of it this year. But we are in contact with the organizers in Plzen to create a perfect summer program, especially for all of you from abroad! From Plzen directly to Bad Vöslau, then to Orleans (France) and from there to Lithuania – Doesn't that sound promising? I think this dense program might be an extra motivation for a few athletes from far away to take the long trip to Europe after all. The date isn't just a coincidence either: For the world elite it's the best time to prepare for the European Championships two weeks earlier. And there are also a few more arguments for coming to Austria, like WRE, WMS, cup events of different countries …
Just before the Austrian MTBO days, we'll have in Waldviertel, in the beginning of June, the kick off of the World Cup 2017. Do you plan to join the event?
T. M. - Yes, of course! We have many good senior riders, so I won't be able to qualify for the World Cup, but we have Austrian Cup races there, too. And it is the same area where the World Championships 2018 are going to be held. My first year as a junior in my home country.
What are your main goals for the season?
T. M. - My main goal is definitely the EYMTBOC in France. Unfortunately it's not possible for me to compete in Lithuania, that's very disappointing, but hopefully in the next decades I'll get other chances to compete in these very technical areas – they look enormous.
For those who don't know about MTBO, but are able to try something new, what do you have to say?
T. M. - I don't think that I have to explain how orienteering or MTBO works to the readers of this blog, but I think I can try to clear up a misunderstanding: The cliché is that MTBO is easy, because you don't have to orientate as you're just going on trails or roads, and yes, that's true (in most countries). The big difference is the much higher speed on the bike, compared to running. To read and capture the map while biking, and not crashing into a tree at the same time, is more difficult than most people think (Yep, that happened to me, too!) and when you haven't read the map carefully, you can end up two valleys off, even small mistakes cost much more time than in Foot orienteering. You also have to rely on gathering loads of information in your mind in a very short time. For untrained bikers, map reading while riding is only just possible on streets, and if you have to stop to read, the race will be over before you find your way.
Is there anything that you'd like to add?
T. M. - I want to thank all my past, present and future companions again for their contribution. I will give my best to fulfill all expectations, especially my own, and I'm looking forward to many, many more years with MTBO. You won't get rid of me that easily!