The best prepared win!
By Martin Groth
The last thing Jørgen Rostrup wrote in answer to my question was "the person who prepares best, wins!" Jørgen ran at four JWOCs. He knew how to prepare himself the last two times when he won. But, how well prepared are the juniors when they come to the JWOC?
Jørgen ran his first JWOC in Denmark in 1995 and finished in a surprising 8th place. He grew up in southern Norway, with Denmark being a natural place for training camps he knew what to expect in Silkeborg, Denmark. The next year, he went to Rumania without having any idea how the terrain would be. His best result was 19th place. The next year, he had a disagreement with the Norwegian O' Federation and wasn't on the national team. He prepared on his own by going to training camps in Belgium and in similar terrain in Norway and Denmark. His preparations this time were much more precise than the previous year. This time, one year older Jørgen became world champion.
"As a 19 and 20 year old, the JWOC was the only important race of the season."
Jørgen is known for training hard and preparing carefully. Not all juniors come to the JWOC as well prepared as Jørgen, especially in terms of experience. It isn't clear that everyone knows how to prepare themselves, as this runner with experience in the Swedish national team:
"I had a problematic spring before the JWOC. I was absolutely too lazy and ignorant to be able to train myself well after I left the O' school and the sports-platoon. I'd had both training plans and friends to train with."
Most Scandinavian orienteers get one, or maybe two, chances in a JWOC. The competitions are often in terrain they aren't familiar with and with different conditions than at home. At the JWOC in Bulgaria in 1999, on the coast of the Black Sea, it was hot and the Swedish runners struggled to take in enough fluid. Others, who were more familiar with the conditions, thrived. Both the Russian winner, Andrei Khramov, and the third place finisher, Troy de Hass, should be more used to the extreme heat.
Unfamiliar terrain and heat are conditions the runners meet at the JWOC, but before that they've got to get through the Swedish selection races. Only the absolute best are able to cruise through the tests and be sure of a spot on the team. How much did it cost the others just to try to make the team? One of those who was at their first championship in the middle of the 1990s felt it was enough to make the team and the hunger was gone:
"I was very satisfied to make the team and wasn't focused on the race once I was at the JWOC. That meant I didn't have very good results. I was shocked to be so far behind despite a decent race. The next year, I decided that I'd either go for the gold at the JWOC or not even go. So during the whole spring season, I tried to expend as little effort and peak form as possible while still making the JWOC team. Once I was at the JWOC, I'd "burn all my energy." I'd say my plan worked well as I made the team after the final selection race, but still had the best result at the JWOC of all the Swedes."
To be at the JWOC several times, like Jørgen, is an advantage. Most agree. Knowing how the races are organized, what goes on, and how you'll react under the pressure of a big championship, are important to be able to have a good performance. One of Sweden's medallists wasn't worried about the terrain, he knew what to expect and that made him comfortable:
"Being at the JWOC the year before was certainly a big advantage, because I knew more or less how the races were organized. I also knew I could handle the terrain where the selection races and then the JWOC would take place, so I didn't need to prepare myself so much for that aspect."
Mats Troeng has similar thoughts:
"I knew exactly what to expect the second time. Having experience means a lot, regardless of whether you're a junior or a senior. I'm not talking so much about the competition as about how everything else works: the start draw, opening ceremony, dealing with nerves, etc. If you've got a clear picture of what is going to happen, you don't need to spent so much energy thinking about it."
It isn't just physical that counts. You have to be well prepared mentally. A lot of orienteers have followed a plan to reach peak form physically, but then not be able to handle the mental aspect. Mats Troeng:
"I always had detailed training plans, much more detailed than I have now. I probably had a good handle on the physical part, but the mental part was an area where I could have done better."
Enikö Fey wasn't afraid to get help in her preparations before the JWOC and sought help from a senior world champ:
"I've worked intensively with mental training during my years as a junior, and after Katalin Olah won the world championships in 1991 I had a good model who was nearby -- geographically, but also because my family is also Hungarian. I got in touch with Katalin and talked about training and training methods with her."
A Norwegian national team member refers to the good base of training from ski training as a junior as the reason he was able to handle the physical demands and in terms of preparations be able to perform at his best during the JWOC. Fredrik Löwegren, Joacim Carlsson and Marius Bjugan are among the runners who feel they knew how they should prepare themselves phsuyically. Joacim was not on the national team as a 19 year old and had to count on selection races to make it. Another who wasn't on the national team as a junior was Anna Mårsell who was picked at the last opportunity for the JWOC in Rumania. Being selected for the JWOC training camp made Anna, who hadn't had big success before, satisfied. But that satisfaction wasn't enough, and Anna earned a spot in the JWOC team. Being satisfied to make the JWOC training camp could have been a problem, but it wasn't what caused the problem. Thinking of yourself as a member of the national team can be stressful:
"When I was picked for the JWOC training camp (I think 12 girls were picked), I was pretty satisfied, but I'd already decided that if I'd already gone so far I might as well go the whole way and try for the JWOC. I was still surprised when I was picked for the JWOC team (even though I'd run well at the selection races)....I was very nervous before and had trouble imagining myself in the national team suit. But, after eating breakfast every morning for two weeks dressed in the blue and yellow nylon (before changing and going to work) that feeling went away."
There are as many ways to prepare as there are orienteers. Who doesn't remember Kent Olssons 4 hours of getting ready before the WOC start? Juniors are unschooled young orienteers who may not have been able to learn how to tackle a situation like a JWOC start. This is where the national team leaders have a big responsibility, and it may be the big difference between being a national team leader for the juniors and the seniors. For the future of Swedish O' success, we've got to hope that the juniors are aware that a JWOC isn't just any competition and that they prepare for it. To deal with a loss is also something you have to learn to handle. Even a perfect race won't always lead to the success you'd hoped for and, in that case, you need to be able to get yourself ready for more races.
Annika Björk realized that in her last JWOC. The goal was gold and everyone, including Annika, knew it:
"In the short distance, which was the first race, I had the best race of my life -- and was beaten by 1:24. I wasn't used to that situation, to do the perfect race and be outclassed. Even tough I got silver I wasn't satisfied. Unconsciously I might have felt beaten before the start of the classic race and I had a hard time getting mentally ready. In the classic race I boomed about 8 minutes, was beaten by 3 minutes and finished 5th. That was the toughest set back I've had to get over in my career. Afterwards, I realize I was so much better than I thought, and that I didn't take advantage of the chance I had. So, I have to say the strongest memory I have from a JWOC is, unfortunately, from the beach of a muddy creek in Rumania on July 12, 1996, when I realized I wasn't taking a gold home with me."
That quote from Annika finishes this series. I want to thank everyone who has participated, some anonymous and some who've been quoted by name.