Athlete of the Month
Two weeks – six international golds!
What do you think Olli Ojanaho could read first? A written text or a map? During a period of 15 days this summer, the Finn won six international gold medals.
What a summer it has been for the 18-year-old orienteering talent who has grown up and still lives in Rovaniemi in Northern Finland. First he won the Long, Relay and Sprint at the European Youth Orienteering Championships (EYOC) in Cluj-Napoca in Romania from June 26th to 28th. Then he took part in five competitions at the Junior World Championships (JWOC) in Rauland in Norway from July 5th to 10th. Here it was gold at Middle, Long and Relay. Between these championships he had just six days without a race.
“It was a good week at JWOC, with awesome terrain and great atmosphere. I didn’t feel physically very good after the tough EYOC trip with lots of travelling just before, but I didn’t let it disturb my orienteering. I was able to run quite stable races in the forest and I got valuable experience for the future. It has felt really good afterwards of course, but it’s the experiences and memories that really count, not the medals.”
Just one week and two days after the final race at JWOC, O-Ringen started with Olli on the start line. In Borås he ran in the men’s senior class.
“It’s always really nice to be at O-Ringen. Of course I have had lots of competitions and travelling during the past two months, and my condition is maybe not the best possible. But the goal I set for this summer was to run everything – EYOC, JWOC and O-Ringen – although I knew it would be tough and I perhaps wouldn’t be so strong physically. At O-Ringen I unfortunately haven’t able to run at full speed because of a swollen big toe joint. I hit it against a root the week before O-Ringen, and it was hurting especially in the forest. But I have been able to run the races as hard training and I think the week has given me a lot: high-quality o-training and experience of these kinds of terrain, as well as a taste of tough and challenging men’s courses. Mentally I am still feeling fresh, and I have been very eager to go to the forest every day. It’s fun to run brilliant courses, enjoying the unique O-Ringen week at the same time.”
A family of talents
Olli was born into orienteering. His dad Mikko and mum Marja-Leena brought him into navigation from the start. “I have never had to do orienteering, although I have been in orienteering competitions with my parents and relatives since I was born. I just liked it so much already from the beginning that I can’t imagine life without it.”
He has one brother and two sisters – little brother Niilo (16) and sisters Ansa-Lotta (12) and Eeva-Liina (10). All of them go orienteering, and all of them are showing talent. Niilo is in the junior national team in SkiO and won a silver medal in last year’s European Youth Ski Orienteering Championships in Norway. The sisters are at the top of their class in their own age groups.
Olli’s grandparents have also been successful in orienteering at national level. Olli’s uncle Ville-Petteri Saarela is in the Finnish National team in Ski Orienteering.
High training level
Olli trains for between 12 and 23 hours a week. During the winter it’s usually closer to 20 hours each week. During the hardest competition season in summer it’s much less.
“I know my training amount is bigger than most orienteers have, but it’s high due to the fact that I use cross-country skiing a lot in easy training sessions. It’s so much easier for the body compared to running, so it brings more hours. I don’t focus on the hours, with cross-country skiing it’s surely enough general training and therefore I have a high focus on my quality training.”
During winter he is out cross-country skiing almost every day as low-intensity training. During the summer it’s a bit less with roller skiing, but still often a few times a week. He competed in ski orienteering until the age of 16.
His training is pretty much in his own hands. He always decides himself what to do. “I have also had some mentors during my career who have given me information about endurance sports and followed my training.” At school training in the sports academy in Rovaniemi he has different coaches, and the same applies to the junior national team.
“I would say my dad is my “personal trainer”. He’s most of the time close to me and knows me better than anyone else. In everyday life he soon notices if I’m tired, and if I’m doing too much training or the like.”
Does little analysis
During the biggest competitions like EYOC and JWOC he didn’t analyse his racing at all. In fact he very seldom even looks at his split times.
“It suits me better to just forget the performance when I can’t affect it any more, and also to think about everything else but orienteering until the next start. But in the spring and autumn I do analyse my races and training. I study my GPS data, and compare routes with others at training camps. But I somehow feel that analysing a lot doesn’t suit me; it goes better with keeping it simple and just doing “repeats” in the forest.”
The junior success club
Olli represents Ounasvaaran Hiihtoseura (= Ounasvaara Ski Club), where they do cross-country skiing, biathlon, ski jumping, Nordic combined, orienteering and ski orienteering. There are over 200 competitive orienteers in the club.
Taking orienteering and ski orienteering together, it is one of the most successful clubs in Finland. The success comes mostly from SkiO, with many national team members especially amongst the juniors. Last winter in Norway (at JWSOC and EYSOC) there were four athletes from Ounasvaaran Hiihtoseura. Matti Keskinarkaus, a very successful ski orienteer who ended his career a couple years ago, is also from Ounasvaaran Hiihtoseura.
The club has a strong junior group with successes in the 10Mila Youth Relay, the Youth Jukola Relay, Finnish schools championships and Finnish championships. ”I have got a lot of experience of running in different situations in a Relay, always on the last leg. We have a good spirit in our club. Nowadays the times in the club are changing a bit as we are getting older and everyone is starting to live their own lives.”
– How often do you attend club training?
”When I was younger we had club training in Rovaniemi, but these days I go to only one training camp each spring with the club, otherwise my friends and I do our own training. The younger orienteers in our club are having club training regularly, which I think is really important at that age.”
Olli and a couple of other athletes are ahead of the new generation of orienteers in their club. The successful junior work was started and created by Olli’s father, Mikko Ojanaho.
JWOC Middle Distance medalist Anna Haataja is also originally from the club, but this season she changed club to SK Pohjantähti in Oulo where she will study from the autumn. Pohjantähti was 4th and the best Finnish team in the Venla Relay this year.
A special athlete
Tarmo Oikarinen is Chairman of the Orienteering Section in Ounasvaaran Hiihtoseura. He describes Olli’s preformances this way: ”He is a very special athlete; he is very talented and dedicated. He has trained for his whole life, determinedly and variously. Also the support from his family couldn’t be stronger.”
– What does his success mean for the club?
”He’s an idol for the kids and a great example of how a world-class orienteer can come from the Arctic Circle and Santa Claus’s home town, Rovaniemi. His success brings great publicity to the club.”
– What are you doing in the club to help him?
”Financial support with stipends and for competitions. Our main focus is on juniors, and in that area we do well. But for adults, right now we don’t have the training groups or relay teams, so we don’t have so much to offer.”
A young start
It was at five years age that Olli started to run alone. “I can’t remember my first race. My parents have only told me that it took some time but I managed to complete the course!”
– When were you able to read a map and written text?
“About at the age of four or five, both reading a map and written text. As a kid I used to play a lot with maps. I drew imagination maps with OCAD and planned courses for them, looked at the route-gadgets of competitions in southern Finland and so on. I think my level of understanding of maps today is based on what I was doing when I was five to twelve years old.”
– What’s the secret of your excellent navigation?
“I think my understanding of maps is pretty good. I’m usually good at route choice and can get used to new terrain types relatively fast. I have noticed it better during the last couple of years when I have run more abroad. Of course I need a lot of training to be better technically, but I think I have a good base for it as I understand maps pretty well.”
Olli’s best races
– What’s your best race so far?
“Perhaps the third stage of O-Ringen 2013 in Boden. After a bad start to the week, I managed to change the direction that day. I was a bit unsure before the race, but when I got the map it felt easy all the way, both technically and physically.”
Over what is still only a few orienteering years, there have been many unforgettable moments in competitions and training camps, and he thinks it is really hard to say what is the biggest.
“But if I could only choose one I would say the JWOC relay in Rauland this year. Topi Raitanen did an excellent first leg and changed over alone in the lead. Aleksi Niemi fought exceptionally well despite his ankle problems and kept the lead. I knew I only had to be relaxed and take one control at a time. It was incredible to get first into the forest and I enjoyed every moment in the beautiful terrain! I trusted the other guys 100 per cent and I think they trusted me too, even though they said it was extremely exciting to follow the last leg. It was an amazing feeling when we ran to the finish, together with the guys I have known for a long time and with whom I have had good times in training camps and competitions in the past years. Topi and I felt even extra happy for Aleksi as it was his very last race at JWOC. After a good Sprint, getting the silver medal, he had problems with his ankle and couldn’t run properly in Middle and Long distances, so it was awesome that he was able to run the Relay with us and we managed to win!”
Two more years as a junior
Olli has two years left of the four years in total at high school. “So I will live in Rovaniemi for the next two years. To become better as an orienteer I have to gain experience in different kinds of terrain, so there will be a lot of competitions and training camps in southern Finland and especially in other countries.”
– What’s the goal for the future?
“I want to see how far I can get as an orienteer. I want to become as strong a runner and as skilled an orienteer as possible.”
– What will you do when you have finished school in Rovaniemi?
“It’s still quite open. We’ll see where life takes me, but I guess it will have something to do with orienteering!”
Interview: Erik Borg
Previous Athletes of the Month
January 2014 Hans Jørgen Kvåle (NOR)
February 2014 Daisy Kudre (EST)
March 2014 Andreu Blanes Reig (ESP)
April 2014 Martin Fredholm (SWE)
May 2014 Susanna Laurila (FIN)
June 2014 Catherine Taylor (GBR)
July 2014 Soren Bobach (DEN)
August 2014 Martin Jullum (NOR)
September 2014 Emily Benham (GBR)
October 2014 Svetlana Mironova (RUS)
November 2014 Tim Robertson (NZL)
December 2014 Hana Hancikova (CZE)
January 2013 Staffan Tunis (FIN)
February 2013 Jerker Lysell (SWE)
March 2013 Stanimir Belomazhev (BUL)
April 2013 Davide Machado (POR)
May 2013 Evaldas Butrimas (LTU)
June 2013 Minna Kauppi (FIN)
July 2013 Oleksandr Kratov (UKR)
August 2013 Cecilia Thomasson (SWE)
September 2013 Jana Kostova (CZE)
October 2013 Mårten Boström (FIN)
November 2013 Tatiana Rvacheva (RUS)
December 2013 Olga Vinogradova (RUS)
January 2012 Alison Crocker (USA)
February 2012 Morihiro Horie (JPN)
March 2012 Polina Malchikova (RUS)
April 2012 Ionut Zinca (ROU)
May 2012 Tobias Breitschädel (AUT)
June 2012 Ivo Tišljar (CRO)
July 2012 Matthias Kyburz (SUI)
August 2012 Marika Hara (FIN)
September 2012 Lizzie Ingham (NZL)
October 2012 Tonis Erm (EST)
November 2012 Marit Wiksell (SWE)
December 2012 Tatiana Ryabkina (RUS)
February 2011 Olga Novikova (KAZ)
March 2011 Olli-Markus Taivainen (FIN)
April 2011 Emily Benham (GBR)
May 2011 Søren Saxtorph (DEN)
June 2011 Tove Alexandersson (SWE)
July 2011 Olav Lundanes (NOR)
August 2011 Thierry Gueorgiou (FRA)
September 2011 Erik Skovgaard Knudsen (DEN)
October 2011 Lauri Kontkanen (FIN)
November 2011 Annika Billstam (SWE)
December 2011 Anna Füzy (HUN)
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