Athlete of the Month – November 2011

Name: Annika Billstam
Country: Sweden
Discipline: Foot orienteering
Career highlights: World Orienteering Championships gold (long distance 2011), silver (relay 2007) and bronze (long 2008, relay 2008, 2010 and 2011), World Cup overall 4th place (2008 and 2011)


Our Athlete of November, Annika Billstam, won her first World Championships gold medal (this year, on long distance) using a normal compass. Now she is going to train hard to use a thumb compass, planning to achieve even better results in the future.

 “I have made mistakes from not running in exactly the right direction. With a thumb compass, every time I look at the map I will see the compass as well. Then it will be easier to run in the right direction”, Annika says. She is motivated to improve all the time: “It isn’t enough for me just to take part. I want to compete and gradually get better.”

 Gold medal partners

At the World Championships in France in August, it was not just Annika Billstam’s gold medal that got attention – it was also her new relationship. The now famous couple Billstam – Thierry Gueorgiou showed their feelings for each other to the whole world for the first time after winning the gold medals on the long distance. The Swede and the Frenchman are not yet planning to live together, but they will see each other a lot on training camps and in competitions, and the two stars will work together to become even better orienteers. “I am really motivated to improve my orienteering technique now and I will certainly be going on more training camps”, Annika tells.

Improving her physical strength has been Annika’s main focus for a while now, and she has made good progress: “It has been a new situation for me to stand on the start line and know that I can win.”

Many years’ break from orienteering

Annika comes from Stockholm and started orienteering when she was eight. She didn’t do very well as a junior, however, and stopped orienteering around the age of 17. After that, until she was 25 years old, she didn’t take part in any orienteering. It was a break of eight years. “I don’t really know why I stopped. It just happened. I gave priority to school and other interests”, Annika says. 

In the spring of 2001 she noticed that there was going to be an orienteering race near her college in Uppsala. “I wanted to take part, but in the race I was beaten by more than ten minutes. But I saw again how much fun orienteering can be. I came back to something I had missed.”         

The same year Billstam took part in the Swedish championships again, and since then she has become better and better. Now, at the age of 35, she has won her first World Championships gold. Two months earlier she won her first World Cup race in Norway.

A positive break

Annika has become a top athlete relatively late in life. She thinks more people could do that. “A lot of energy is used on juniors and young seniors. That’s good, but it has to be remembered that older athletes can also get to the top. So it’s wrong to use all the effort only on juniors.”

The break had some positive effects on Annika’s orienteering career. “I have got another perspective on life, and I now appreciate that sport can be fun. There are more important things in life than sport”, she says.

During the summer Annika and Thierry Gueorgiou became partners. They did some of their preparation for the World Championships together. “We had different ways of doing things, but I had learnt from him and been inspired by him earlier. I try to gain knowledge from the very best. Thierry has given more thought to his training for orienteering than anyone else. I have read a lot of articles about his training.”

Champions’ questions

Lauri Kontkanen, World Trail Orienteering Champion in 2011 and our Athlete of October, asked Annika the following questions:

Because I’m running FootO in Kalevan Rasti, I’d like to know how you and Thierry found each other? Have your orienteering skills improved during the last two years? What kind of mental training methods do you use?

“Thierry and I met and became partners through knowing each other as orienteers. My orienteering skills haven’t improved so much in the last couple of years; I have been focusing on the physical side instead. Mentally I train on my own and try to prepare for what can happen during a race. I have no mental trainer, but it can be good to have somebody to just talk about it with.”

The Athlete of December will be mountain bike orienteer Anna Füzy, who was 5th on the middle distance at the World MTB Orienteering Championships this year. The Hungarian will have the World Championships on home ground in 2012. Annika has this question for Anna:

Do you carry your bicycle and run instead, if you see that it can be smart to take a route choice without using paths? Like taking a short cut from one path to another?

We will be able to read Anna’s answer at the beginning of December.

Photos: Erik Borg

Previous Athletes’ of the Month

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)

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