Athlete of the Month – September 2012


Name: Lizzie Ingham
Country: New Zealand
Discipline: Foot Orienteering
Career highlight:
9th place, World Orienteering Championships Sprint 2012

IOF World Ranking position: 76

Lizzie Ingham has already done better at a World Championships than any other orienteer from New Zealand, but a ninth place is far from the end of her ambitions.

Our Athlete of September 2012 is a 24-year-old Kiwi born and raised among the hills around Wellington. She got into orienteering through her parents. In fact, she was taken along to her first event when she was three days old, on the way home from hospital – although it was a few more years before she completed her first course!

Her parents Gillian and Malcolm are originally from Great Britain and started orienteering while they were at university. They got serious about the sport when they moved to New Zealand in 1982. Mother Gillian represented New Zealand at the World Championships (WOC) in Australia in 1985 and again in France in 1987.

“It was after a disappointing WOC in ’87 that mum decided it was time to take time off and have another baby,” say Lizzie, “so to make my debut on WOC’s return to France last year was something special and I’m glad I made up for mum’s WOC 24 years ago!”           

Lizzie did very well in France, being placed 11th, 13th and 18th in the individual finals. This year she was a bit more up and down, with her ninth place in the Sprint being the highlight of the week.

“A roller-coaster week”

 – How satisfied are you with the last WOC?

“WOC this year was a bit of a roller-coaster week for me. After WOC in France I knew I was capable of making the top ten in any of the distances. But it was a big surprise to win my Sprint heat! I was really satisfied with my 9th place in the Sprint final, although I didn’t quite have the clean race I was aiming for. I lost a fair bit of time in the second half of the course, so there’s definitely room for improvement! Missing out on the Long final by eight seconds the next day was one of the most horrible feelings ever, and one I’m not keen to repeat. I think I’ll learn a lot from the experience though, and it certainly made qualifying for the Middle Distance final a whole lot sweeter!”

“Unfortunately my legs had nothing left in them by the time it came to the Middle final, and the whole race was one mistake after another. It was a bit of a disaster of a race to be honest, but again, one I’ll learn from. My legs still hadn’t recovered by the Relay, but I was pleased with my race on first leg. I stuck with the leaders for the first half of the course, but then just ran out of steam.”

“So although the week had its up and downs, overall I’d say I’m satisfied with how I did. Obviously the Sprint was the highlight, and I’m very proud to have set a new benchmark for a Kiwi performance at WOC. The Middle and Long results may not have been what I was aiming for, but I’m satisfied that I gave the races everything I possibly could. There were a lot of lessons to take from the week, which will hopefully make me a stronger orienteer in the future.”

Strengthening junior scene in New Zealand

Why are the Kiwis coming good now? Matt Ogden won Middle at JWOC this year, you are doing really well and there are also other competitors with good results at international level!

“The New Zealand junior scene has been strengthening for some years now, driven by the competition to make the NZ schools team which competes in Australia every year. So we’re getting more experienced juniors going to JWOCs, and that’s been showing in stronger and stronger results at JWOC, with an increasing number of top-20 results since 2006.”

“That junior strength is now coming through to our elite ranks, and with it a more dedicated attitude to training and competition. We now have solid, committed elite and junior groups in Wellington, Christchurch, and in particular Auckland, who are getting out with maps as often as possible for training.”

“It’s all led to an increased intensity in races at home, and competition for spots on teams that wasn’t there before. It’s fantastic for NZ orienteering, so watch out for more top results to come in the next few years!”

 – When did you realise that you are very talented?  

“When I started to achieve consistently good results racing as a junior both in NZ and Australia, I began to realise I had the potential to be considered a good orienteer in this part of the world. But Europe is an entirely different level of competition, and one which is hard to achieve good results in when you’re based on the other side of the world. I never felt I produced the results that I was capable of at JWOCs. Really it wasn’t until last year, with my results at Swiss O Week and then WOC, that I proved to myself that if I fully commit, I have the potential to be considered one of the top orienteers in the world.”

More experience and self-confidence

– Why are you doing so well?

“Ha-ha, I’ve been asking myself the same thing! I think a major factor is the experience that I’ve built up over the last eight years racing in high pressure races like JWOCs, World Cups and The World Games. You really need that experience to improve, as in NZ it’s easy to fall into the mentality that you can make a three–four minute mistake and only lose 1 or 2 places in the results. It’s taken a few years, but I feel I’ve reached a stage where that experience is really coming to the fore.”

“In 2010 I missed out on racing at WOC, thanks to a hairline fracture above my ankle which I sustained in World Cup races. I did get along to Trondheim to watch though, and it’s proved invaluable as I decided then and there that I never wanted to have to watch WOC rather than run it again!”

“The third factor has been an increase in confidence. Proving to myself that I can foot it with the top girls in the world has given me a lot more faith in my technical and physical abilities. I think mental strength is everything in orienteering; if you start questioning your own ability out in the forest, you’ll make mistakes. So perhaps the biggest change in the last couple of years has been my self-belief. It’s a tough one though, and one I constantly need to work on. The self-doubt still creeps in occasionally, like in the Middle final this year.”

“And of course there’s no way I’d be where I am without the immense support I receive from my family, friends and clubs. Particularly my parents – they’ve coached and supported me emotionally and financially right from my first course through to the present.”

(text continues under the photo)

Lizzie Ingham has the best results ever at WOC for an orienteer from New Zealand, but she is aiming for much higher than she has achieved so far.

Living in Australia

– What are you doing outside sport?

“Since the beginning of last year I’ve been living in Canberra, where I’m studying full-time towards a PhD in Geophysics at the Australian National University (ANU). It’s tough trying to balance full time study with training as full-time as possible. Fortunately though, with my PhD I can largely choose my own hours of work, which makes it easier to fit training into the day. I’m lucky to have an understanding supervisor who allows me time off for WOC, but it is a bit hard to be fully prepared for racing when you’re working up to 1-2 weeks before WOC.”

“One of my reasons for moving to Canberra was actually the orienteering terrain and competition readily available here compared to back home in Wellington. Wellington is one of the best cities in the world in terms of off-road running training, but we have very few quality maps close to the city. Here in Canberra we’re surrounded by maps and when we’re all fit and racing, there’s 4–5 of the top female orienteers in Australia living in Canberra. Having that level of competition at every local event, and maps readily available to train on, is invaluable.”

– How much and how often are you training, and how much training do you do with maps every week?

“All up I’m training six days a week and about 16–17 hours in total. I try to get out on a map at least once and up to three times a week. Perhaps not as often as if I were living in Europe, but more than I was able to do back home in Wellington. It’s great having the maps available within a 10–15 minutes run from home.”

“I also play Premier League football for ANU’s Women’s Football Club, which is a good mental break from work and orienteering training. And so long as I don’t take too many knocks in games it provides fantastic cross training!”

Host for the whole world

– What’s your big ambition for the future, and how far are you looking ahead?

“My immediate goal for the future is the World Cup races in New Zealand in January, where I’ll most certainly be aiming for the podium. Further on, my goal is to be the first Kiwi on the podium at a WOC, and to establish myself in the top tier of female elites in the world. The former I believe I can achieve in the next two–three years. The latter is a long-term goal; I want to be remembered for consistently good results over my career, not just a one-off result!”

– How important will it be to have the World Cup on home ground?

“I don’t think it can get any bigger for a New Zealand orienteer! Realistically this is a once-in-a-career opportunity for us, to race against the world’s best on our home turf. It’s huge for me, as the races will be in my home region where I grew up. It’s huge for my club, Wellington OC, who are the primary organising club. And it’s huge for New Zealand orienteering as a whole. Certainly at the moment the races are more important for me than WOC next year, although the focus will quickly change come February.”

“Personally I just can’t wait to show off our beautiful country to the best orienteers in the world, and show off the best orienteers in the world to our country!”

– Have you been living for any length of time in Europe, or do you have any plans for that?

“The longest I’ve spent in Europe was the 2 months preceding WOC in France, and that was while I was working in the lab. in Rome for my PhD, rather than for orienteering. It was my aim to move to Europe to study for my Masters or PhD but unfortunately the funding just wasn’t there.”

“However I do intend to make the move sometime in the not so distant future. Matt Ogden and I have shown that it’s not impossible to perform on the world stage when you’re based in NZ or Australia, but it’s certainly a huge disadvantage. Being based so far away from all the big competitions, and not being able to train on any relevant terrain until a week or two before races, gives your competitors a significant advantage over you before you reach the start line. Hopefully once I’ve completed my PhD I can find a situation somewhere in Europe where I can be based with a good club and commit more time to orienteering. And if the opportunity came sometime in the future to be a full-time orienteer, it’d be a bit of a dream come true!”

The athletes’ questions

Mountain bike orienteer Marika Hara from Finland, last month’s Athlete of the Month, had these questions for Lizzie:

– How many orienteers are there in New Zealand? What about mountain bike orienteers? Do you have good terrain for mountain bike orienteering? How often do you go to Europe to orienteer?

“New Zealand has around 1,900 orienteers who are members of the 17 clubs up and down the country. Plus there are many school orienteers not affiliated to a club. There are about 2–300 regular MTB orienteers in NZ. Our country is an absolute paradise for most outdoor sports, mountain biking included. However there are few areas that have the dense sort of track network required for a quality MTB-O map. Despite this, Marquita Gelderman got two top-5 results at WMTBOC 2008.”

“Most years I manage a trip to Europe for three–four weeks for orienteering. It’s obviously a very long and expensive trip though, so most of us can’t afford to come over more often or for longer! Unfortunately orienteering isn’t at all a well-funded sport in NZ, so our trips to Europe are primarily self-funded and require at least a part-time job to afford, or a very supportive family!”

Lizzie’s question to the next Athlete of the Month, mountain bike orienteer Tonis Erm, from Estonia are:

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?

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)
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)


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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