Monday, September 17, 2012

Emily Benham: "I just got it right on the day"

She opened her participation in the WOC MTBO 2012 with a historic result. Emily Benham, our guest today, tells us about this sport so special, setting its challenges and drawing some future projects. And she also talks about a silver medal that, finally, did not represent more than “a job well done.”

I know that you started by doing Foot-Orienteering at the age of 11 and then came the MTB Orienteering. How did it happen?

Emily Benham (E. B. ) - I came to MTBO when I had just turned 18, and I started because over the winter of 2006/2007 I had overtrained and done too much running. I needed a break and time to do something different from running. I jumped on a 5 a.m. train, travelled for two hours, biked to the event, raced on a battered old giant with spoke protector and chain guard and then went home. I came 6th in a race where Helen Winskill, Janine Inman, Karen Poole and Heather Monro were racing. I think I was about 10 mins behind them, but I loved it. I loved the speed of navigation and the different challenges the sport presented, and I was lucky to be selected to go to Italy off the back of my first race.

What do you see in this sport that is so special?

E. B. - The combination of mental, physical, technical and bike repair skills! With MTBO you need to be fast and have very good bike handling skills - whether it's biking up steep hills, down steep hills, across roots and rocks. When you move faster, the track junctions come up quicker so your decisions have to be spot on. Then there's the added dimension of needing to be able to repair a bike in the heat of a race, which is made harder by a heart rate of 190 as you panic it's race over!

This year in Veszprém, you've won a historic medal for yourself and for the MTB Orienteering in Great Britain. How did you live these moments?

E. B. - First, I was overwhelmed. I finished with a two minute lead so I knew I had had a good race. I carried out my post-race routine, calmed myself down and waited to see the final result. Then I went back to the accommodation and ate. I didn't do anything special as I had other races to think about. I always imagined winning a medal would feel different and more special. But in reality, it just felt like a job well done.

It was a great achievement, especially after two seasons of a relative “eclipse”. Which was the secret of “to come, see and (almost) conquer”?

E. B. - I think the Ski-Orienteers would call it the “love factor”! I wasn't aiming for a medal, it hadn't really crossed my mind. The two months prior to WOC were very hectic and busy. I spent a month travelling Scandinavia, then a month map making in Norway. Finally I was coaching Foot-Orienteering in Scotland for two weeks. Over the winter/spring I was only 'training' when I felt like it (when it wasn't raining, which wasn't very often!). I started doing some training for WOC in early June. There isn't a secret though. I just got it right on the day - although I think all the foot-O helped!

You won the medal in what is precisely a distance unloved by many. Sprint is really your speciality?

E. B. - I've always enjoyed sprint races. Historically, I'm a “forest” sprinter. I find the zone much more easily and understand the nature of forest sprints. I've never had good results in urban sprint races, so I thought I would perform better in Hungary. The Sprint is an “all-or-nothing” event. You have to commit 110% to every route choice and be on the ball with your navigation for the entire course. There are no down times where you can just bike fast. You always have to think hard. I think this throws a lot of people as one mistake will cost you many places, but if you get it right, the sprint always rewards you.

And what about this WOC MTBO 2012, in general?

E. B. - Well, the World Championships in Hungary have finished. Normally, by this stage, there have been several comments about areas of the organisation or maps or transport. WOC this year passed by without anyone batting an eyelid and I guess this is a sign the organisers did a fantastic job, making it the best WOC I've attended. Their 'olympic village' worked well and the pizzeria across the road enjoyed feeding hungry athletes! The maps were excellent and courses well planned. The areas were chosen to give the athletes a range of terrain to compete on, which added an extra dimension to the week. Even the quarantine zones were kept short and sweet. The bulletins were published in plenty of time and even the admin process was uncomplicated and stress free. Well done to the organising team (when can you organise the next one?!).

I know that you're living in Sweden and this is one of the countries that are now starting to turn to the MTB Orienteering. May we have, in the next years, a strong MTB Orienteering team in Sweden as it is in Foot Orienteering?

E. B. - The Swedish team already have two strong athletes: Cecilia Thomasson and Linus Karlsson Mood, both of whom have potential to get great results. Swedish MTBO is growing, but I think it will take some years for it to catch up to Finland MTBO in terms of elite riders. They have events on every month now, mostly around Stockholm and up to 4 hours away from the capital, so there are plenty of opportunities. It will take time to develop strength in depth.

Overall, how do you evaluate the evolution of the sport? What did you think of the latest changes to the rules, in particular about to move off the tracks?

E. B. - I like the direction the sport is heading. I would like to see more head-to-head races over long distances but they must be properly gaffled (the Hungarian system of 2009/2010 worked really well). I would also like to see more mixed sprint relay events similar to ski-o. The sport has to develop to be more spectator friendly and head-to-head races and sprint relays are possibly the way forwards. I like events where there is an option to shortcut through the forest. The maps have to be properly made, especially in areas where shortcutting is likely. I don't think it would work on every area, but in Hungary it certainly added an extra navigational challenge. MTBO to the control circle. Then orienteer properly to the control.

However, I think in the future the carrying of personal GPS devices should be permitted (well done to the Hungarians for permitting devices without a map - finally a step forward). It would take me far longer to programme my GPS with where I wanted to go in a race, than it would to use my brain to get there. GPS units could be declared before the event with the make and model. Organisers could carry out random (not at the start) checks on those that have map capability to check there are no orienteering maps on the device, and “GPS” could be written after athletes names in the results so everyone knows who rides with their device. I use my GPS to collect my HR and speed data, but I have no information on any major events, which would be interesting to see for training purposes. So many athletes now own GPS units, but I can't imagine anyone would gain much time by cheating given that it would be obvious to other competitors - an athlete riding along solely looking at their watch ...

And now? Did you started working for the gold in 2013?

E. B. - For now I'm settling into life in Sweden. Learning my local trails, and trying to love roots and rocks! I'm not going to make the same mistakes I've made in previous years, what I did this year works for me. I've been persuaded to go to Estonia recently, and I'm looking forward to experiencing the maps and terrain there in preparation for WOC next year. As for gold in 2013 - we'll have to wait and see, you can never expect medals. My main goal for now is not to finish last in a ski-o race this winter!!! :-)

Joaquim Margarido

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Matt Ogden: "Euphoria!"

Thursday, July the 12th 2012. In the forests of Izra, Matt Ogden gave to New Zealand its first gold medal in a Junior World Orienteering Championship ever. Two months later, he is the Portuguese Orienteering Blog's guest of honour. Still living in a state of euphoria, here he's willing to share memories, dreams and projects in a simple, direct way, enabling to know better the athlete and person.

A historical result, your first place at JWOC's Middle Distance. Was the gold medal in your plans?

Matt Ogden (M. O.) - Yes, a very historical result! It was New Zealand’s first ever medal and the first even non-European male medal. Those two historical facts alone convinced me that a gold medal was close to impossible. I did dream of being a World Champion though but that was buried deep within my thoughts and only ever surfaced when training got tough and I needed a source of motivation. So when I crossed that finish line, it was a pretty surreal feeling.

How did you start in Orienteering?

M. O. - I was first introduced to Orienteering when I was 10 years old at primary school. My mate and training partner, Gene Beveridge, asked if I would be interested in giving orienteering a go. I then did it throughout high school. Gene’s dad took us to all the schools events, travelling the length of the country where we competed at all the schools events. My first ever club nationals I picked up the middle distance title and I also won the national secondary schools title in my final year of high school. This kick started my orienteering career and when I experienced Europe into 2010 there was no going back.

Returning to Slovakia and to JWOC, how did you prepare for the gold medal?

M. O. - My preparations began two years ago, when I competed at my first JWOC in Denmark. I placed 70th in the Sprint, 84th in the Long and qualified in the Middle to eventually get a 46th place. One of my strongest memories from that A-final was being passed by Gustav Bergmann. It was then that I would realise the orienteering speed required to be near the top of field. After a solid training period I was back in action last year in Poland where I had a good race in the Middle Distance to finish 15th (30th and 21st in the Long and Sprint too). Following JWOC in Poland, I did some travelling and competed in the Croatia 5-day and OOCup. The OOCup would have to be the most fun I have ever had orienteering. The event was amazingly well organised and the terrain was just out of this world! It just so happened that the Middle final this year in Slovakia was held in quite similar terrain (maybe not such a coincidence). This year I made sure that I was running at 100% at JWOC. I arrived in Slovakia three weeks prior to the competition so that I could fully adapt to the climate and terrain while also recovering from jet lag. I ran numerous trainings with two Australians, I ate well and I was injury free so when I was on the start line of the sprint I was 100% prepared.

What are the strongest images you keep from that day? Did you wake up in the morning saying to yourself “let's go for gold”?

M. O. - I don’t think any orienteer ever wakes up and says “let’s go for gold”. That is the beauty of Orienteering. The winner is the athlete who can forget about the result and focus entirely on their technique. I had slept well after the night before the final and I was calm and relaxed going into the race. For every race at JWOC I had a set routine which I once again executed before the race. One emotion I did not expect to feel was sad. This was going to be my last individual JWOC race, but this also made me very excited as I knew it was my last chance to do something special as a junior. All the hard work, all the pain, all the training came flooding to me just before the race. A customary hi –five with my coach and I was heading off to the start. The strongest image from that day was definitely the NZ support coming into the arena mid-course and at the end. There support was unparalleled, and I believe, made that crucial difference in the last part of the course. The best feeling though would have to be collapsing across the finish line knowing that I had given everything; physically, technically and mentally. I knew that I had done all that I could to have the ‘perfect race’. Then when that was coupled with the commentary “Matt Ogden has taken the lead” there is only one word that can describe the feeling, Euphoria! And that has been the feeling ever since I won the gold.

In which way can this title be important for Orienteering in New Zealand?

M. O. - I think I have shown to all the juniors in New Zealand (and Australia) that being based in Oceania is not necessarily a bad thing. We have some fantastic terrain and with the right attitude and dedication anything is possible. Hopefully my success will inspire a new breed of New Zealand orienteer’s who will take the orienteering world by storm. I have done a lot of coaching with the New Zealand juniors and I definitely think that there are some real talents coming through. The saddest thing about orienteering in New Zealand is its appearance in the media and public eyes. It is seen as an ‘activity’ that you don’t really need to be skilled at. I think by winning a world champs, people have begun to realise the true essence of orienteering and how difficult it actually is. Hopefully because of this, orienteering can grow to new heights in New Zealand and become a nationally recognised sport (maybe a bit hopeful :P).

Tell me a little bit about you. What kind of person is Matt Ogden?

M. O. - Currently I am studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Auckland. I live about 40 minutes from the university so I spend a lot of my time driving each day. As much as 2hrs! So I think if I ever retire from Orienteering I would make an excellent limousine or taxi driver. I love food, any kind, as long as there is lots of it. I also really enjoying down time, sitting on the couch playing my ps3, watching a movie or laughing at Family Guy! I don’t really detest too many things as I believe it is best to have a positive outlook on as many things as possible! In the future I hope to move to Sweden; well it is becoming more of a reality. In 2013 I will finish my studying, so I will be a 21 year old qualified mechanical Engineer living the dream in Europe (that is what I hope to do at least!).

Do you have an idol in Orienteering? What does he (or she) have that you don't?

M. O. - I admire all top orienteer’s like Gueorgiou, Hubmann and Lundanes. But I don’t really have an idol. I liked what Edgars said about being your own Idol; I thought it was true in many ways.

Next year, the World Cup will start in your country. What are your chances of a good result, playing at home?

M. O. - It is really nice to have the World Cup in New Zealand. It is time for the Europeans to suffer at the hands of jet lag and travel fatigue! This will be my first senior race which I am targeting so I am not expecting much when it comes to results. My focus once again will be on the technical and physical performances. I think that the older athletes who have had experience at the senior level will do really well, especially Ross Morrison, who is somewhat unbeatable in his home terrain (the location of the third and final world cup race).

Talking about her goals, Lizzie Ingham, athlete of the month of September 2012 of the International Orienteering Federation, intends “to be the first Kiwi on the podium at WOC”. Are you going to break her dream?

M. O. - Haha. I don’t really want to break someone’s dream. My dream was to be a Junior World Champion and somehow it was realised. It will take some months for the high of winning JWOC to settle and for me to re-focus and begin to dream the biggest one of all, but I imagine it will be something like-to be the kiwi, first on the podium at WOC. But like JWOC it will not be my goal. Dreams are merely a source of motivation for me, my real goals are things that I control. The one consistent goal I have had throughout my orienteering career is to always be improving my technique so I will spend the next few years really focusing on that. I have never experienced a WOC so I have no idea what to expect, but I have heard that it is a million times harder than any JWOC. One person, or group, that could break Lizzie's dream though is IOF. One reason that New Zealand has grown so strong over the past few years is our WOC athletes returning home and improving the level of competition. If the changes to WOC are made then we will have less runners competing at WOC, which will be detrimental for Orienteering in New Zealand. In my opinion they looked at the problem the wrong way; Instead of “how can we change WOC to make it more TV friendly?” they should have really looked at “how can we change TV to make WOC more of a spectator sport”.

Joaquim Margarido