Athlete of the Month – April 2012


Name: Ionut Zinca
Country: Romania
Discipline: Foot Orienteering
Career highlights: World Orienteering Championships: 5th in Sprint, FRA 2011, 8th at Middle distance, HUN 2009, 12th at Long distance, UKR 2007

World Cup: 8th at Middle distance, CZE 2011

IOF World Ranking position: 24

Ionut Zinca enjoys living in two countries and having snow- and ice-free ground under his feet all the year round. The Romanian spends almost half of the year based in Spain, and lives in his home country the rest of the time.

“It’s fantastic to train for orienteering in Spain. The weather is perfect and the variety of terrain in Spain makes it an ideal place for preparing for big competitions. In general the maps are at a very good level too”, Zinca says.

The 28-year-old made his big breakthrough last year when he finished fifth in the Sprint in the World Championships in France. “Since I was 15 I have dreamt that one day I could be on the podium, and this dream was always tied to the World Championships. I have won so many races and so many different types of competition, but nothing can compare with this result. For me this was the payback for all the hard work over the last few years”.

He hasn’t seen himself as a Sprint specialist since he likes all formats, but last year he prepared very well for the Sprint. 

A joyful Ionut Zinca, fifth in the 2011 World Championships Sprint. Graham Gristwood was fourth and Matthias Merz sixth. Photo: Erik Borg

Started at 11

Ionut was born in the small town of Plopeni, 70 kilometres outside Bucharest. He started orienteering at the age of 11. The local club had formed a good team based mostly on juniors, and his father asked the trainer if Ionut could join in, and that’s how his sporting life began.

He has been racing at elite level for several years now; he has competed at World Cup level for Romania every year since 2005.

A new life in Spain

Ionut first went to Spain in 2003. He wanted a change in his life, to be a sportsman in a new country. At the beginning it was tough, mostly because Romania was not a member of the European Union.

“My luck changed when I met some people who trusted me and believed in me. Until 2005 I couldn’t go outside Spain to compete in international events because I didn’t have Spanish residency papers, but then things changed for the better”.

Since 2007 he has lived for four to five months every year in Spain, and the rest in Romania, except for the periods when there are competitions abroad. “I prefer to train in Spain from December to May and then I go to Romania. In recent years I have spent two months map-making, but this has depended on my competition calendar. I have done the mapping at the end of the season when there are no competitions”.

Money from running

His Romanian club CSU Craiova gives him 300 Euro per month for being a professional. “My club also rewards me for my results and in this way I can reach 500 Euro a month, but the results money usually comes in at the end of the year”.

Money prizes from mountain running also provide a good income and are another way to help finance his sport. “My way of life is a bit weird and it has always been like this, and I believe it will be like this in the future. I am lucky that my body is strong so I can run a lot of mountain races and get income from that. The problem now is that races with money prizes are starting to become rarer”.

Pressure from others

It requires a lot to be able to train as hard as Ionut. “Where there is a will there is a way. In each training session I try to go one step further in improving my fitness, but at the same time I try to enjoy myself. There is also good pressure from others in Romania. Last year I was beaten in the Middle Distance National Championships. This is proof that there are other runners from my country that can achieve good results in the near future. But the other runners are not as fit as me and this has a negative effect on their results”.

How have you strengthened your performance compared to last year?”

“In recent years I have reached a very good balance between running and orienteering, and have continued my training to be better both in speed and endurance in long races and in my o-technique”.

This season Ionut is concentrating on the World Championships. “After last season’s results my motivation is very high. The European Championships is one of my targets, but I prefer to concentrate on the World Championships. Just before those I will have the European Mountain Running Championships in Turkey, and after my 7th place at the World Championships in Albania last year I want to go one step further”.

Ionut Zinca runs in to take fifth place in the World Championships sprint 2011. Photo: Erik Borg

Strong running a priority

“In the first place I want to be very strong in my running. For the moment I am on the right path and I feel very good. The o-technique training camps will be in Romania and Bulgaria. It is very difficult for small countries like Romania to go to Switzerland because it is very expensive there”.

“How far do you look into the future, in terms of continuing with orienteering at high level?”

“I prefer to concentrate on the present, but I hope to be here for many years to come”.

The athletes’ questions

Polina Malchikova was the Athlete of March. The Russian has the following question to Ionut: –What percentage of your training time do you spend on technical training? Which format do you like most (Sprint, Middle or Long, interval or mass start)? What kind of special preparation do you do for your favourite distance?

“In general I don’t do any map training. When I am at o-camps I try to take 100 percent from each training session, but when I am at home it’s very difficult to do so much orienteering. About 20% of my training is orienteering. Money is needed to go map training and it is difficult to get enough of it.”                    

“My favourite is Long Distance. This year I will try to have better results in this type of race. I believe my rhythm is good. In each training session I give it my best, so that makes it every time a special preparation. For example I often have a three-hour-long distance training session, and days when I run 20-25 kilometres very fast”.

The next Athlete of the Month is the mountain bike orienteer Tobias Breitschädel from Austria. Ionut’s questions to him are: How many hours do you train and what distances do you cover in a week? What is your opinion about the future of orienteering and what would you change for the future in the competitions?


Ionut Zinca lives for part of the year in Spain and the other part in Romania. Photo: Erik Borg

Text and photos: Erik Borg

Previous Athletes’ of the Month

January 2012 Alison Crocker (USA)
February 2012 Morihiro Horie (JPN)
March 2012 Polina Malchikova (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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