Athlete of the Month – October 2012

Name: Tõnis Erm
Country: Estonia
Discipline: MTB Orienteering
Career highlight:
Silver medal, World MTB Orienteering Championships Sprint 2010

IOF World Ranking position: 7

 Our Athlete of October is a sprint specialist in MTB orienteering, took recently his first-ever World Cup victory – in sprint, of course – and is by many remembered as the rider showing incredible integrity and sportsmanship at the World Mountain Bike Orienteering Championships in Italy. Meet Tõnis Erm, 30-year-old MTB orienteer from Estonia.

Tõnis started foot orienteering at the age of 8. “When I was 15, I was the best in Estonia, but a lot of leg injuries soon followed. In total, my legs have been operated 5 times. During that period, I was not able run enough to be a competitive foot orienteer, but I did a lot of cross-country skiing and biking. So when still junior, I switched to ski orienteering.

I tried MTBO for the first time in 2001, my second race was in 2003 and I attempted to get into Estonian MTBO team in 2004, but I did not qualify. I noticed my potential only in 2005, when I won my first World Ranking event in Slovakia (while being terrified by the big mountains) and also won the Finnish WMTBOC qualification race.”

Sprint specialist

When looking at the results, you seem to be especially good in sprint. Is sprint your favourite distance, or is there another distance you like more?

“Yes, sprint is my favourite. Physically I am probably better suited for long, but sprint brings out the best in my mental and orienteering technical capabilities.”

When it comes to the mixed relay, which in MTBO currently is with three legs with at least one female and one male rider, Tõnis is not as enthusiastic: “I personally would do very well in it – but I do not like the idea. It is my strong opinion that it devalues the medals from other distances.”

Tõnis Erm won the World Cup sprint in Räpina, Estonia, 21 September 2012.

Dramatic World Championships sprints

Tõnis has participated in World Championships since 2005. “WMTBOC 2010 sprint in Portugal, where I won the silver medal, has been my best competition so far. I really pushed everything out there – I was leading the race in the second-to-last control, but then got a horrible chain-suck on the last uphill and lost 18 seconds to Adrian Jackson in the finish.”

Tõnis was close to winning a medal in sprint in the World MTB Orienteering Championships 2011 too, but an unfortunate mistake changed the situation. “In Italy, going off track is not allowed. There was a place on the map, where the red line covered a junction – I even stopped at the control before that to recheck that place. At that place, there were tracks leading downwards, so I found the junction and took it. However, a closer examination after the finish revealed that there was no junction, so I had taken a shortcut and that is forbidden. So in the end, I wrote a note to the jury explaining what I had done.” The jury then disqualified Tõnis, and he lost the medal. Many suspected that also other athletes had made the same mistake, and therefore broken the rules, too, but it was never proven. Tõnis still felt he made the right decision: he says he could not have taken a medal that he got by breaking the rules – even if he did it accidentally. His sportsmanship was greatly praised by the other athletes, coaches and officials.

Future plans

Tõnis trains currently a little less than 500 hours per year. Some years ago he used to train more, but now he needs to have more time for his work and family. He mostly trains alone, but in recent years he has also cooperated with the MTB orienteers Margus Hallik, and Lauri Malsroos, and sometimes with road cyclists from Spordipartner club.

Next year Tõnis is aiming to win the World Championships sprint: “I will try to take my first gold medal at the World Championships in Estonia next year. It will not be easy – on the one hand home ground does give some advantage, but on the other hand, it does make you more nervous.”

When asked about his life outside MTBO, Tõnis tells: “I have a lovely wife and a 1-year old son. To earn my living I work as a freelance financial consultant – I write business plans, funding applications etc. In addition, I have a board member and course planner responsibilities in Adventure Club Xdream. The club organises Nike Winter Xdream adventure rogaine, Ace Xdream adventure racing series (4 races) and Vaude Bike Xdream MTBO rogaine every year. Managing this organisation takes up a lot of my time, since all these races are among the largest of their kind in the World with 585, 1131 and 405 as participant number records. In addition to that I started a GPS tracking service this year; you can have a look at tracked races in site on page VÕISTLUSED. There is no time left for other hobbies.”

Tõnis Erm in World Cup in Räpina.

Athletes’ questions

Athlete of September, Lizzie Ingham from New Zealand had this message and questions to Tõnis:

Firstly, congratulations to Tonis on his WMTBOC result! I’d like to know what makes a good MTBO map: is it more about the density of the track network, the terrain, or the riding technicality? Where is your favourite MTBO map/area, and what makes it so special?

“Thanks! The right answer is dense track network on hilly terrain. Riding technicality comes third in my opinion; however in some terrain types riding is so technical that you have to focus on riding all the time and have little time for map reading. For example, try reading a map on a narrow fast winding singletrack downhill – it is possible, but it ends with a crash.

Personally, I prefer flat terrains where high speed riding is possible in extremely dense track network. Danes have really trotted a lot of tracks to their few forests and these are excellent for MTBO, for example EMTBOC 2009 relay. Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania also have some nicely networked near-city terrains.”

The next Athlete of the Month is the reigning European Trail Orienteering Champion, Marit Wiksell, Sweden. She is 21 years old but already a very experienced trail orienteer. Tõnis asks Marit: 

Do you (sometimes) get stressed or nervous before and during trailO races? Physically you do not need to push yourself to the limit, but how do you feel before or during the mental exercise?

Tõnis Erm (to the left) looking at the route choices after finishing the long distance World Cup race in Värska, Estonia, in September 2012.

Photos: Einar Raudkepp and Reigo Teervalt

Previous Athletes’ of the Month


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)


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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