Pinja Mäkinen – Trail Orienteering Athlete of the Year 2017

Posted on | December 13, 2017 | Category: Arena, News, TrailO

Pinja Mäkinen has three children between two and six years old and is working almost full-time – and yet this year she has won a World Championship medal again.

The Athlete of the Year in Trail Orienteering grew into orienteering as a young child. “I started in my club Koovee when I was three years old,” she tells. As a teenager she won three medals in Junior World Championships. “I was a bit introvert, and a smart girl. I had one thing I could do very well and which I really enjoyed: orienteering. So I used my free time mostly for training, and I had good conditions to do it. I achieved quite a good level in orienteering skills. But after all that, I found in the senior class I was not fast enough to reach the top level.”

Right from her young days she has been known for her good skills as a Foot Orienteer. Pinja’s former name was Satri. She got as far as representing Finland in the World Cup.

Changed to a new sport

In 2011 her oldest girl Venla was born. Mother Pinja felt she could not reach any higher level in FootO with a family, so she stopped her career as a FootO athlete. “I still had a hunger for top-level orienteering and all the mental challenges and experiences it offers. It was my father who suggested TrailO. It sounded good for me because my strength has always been the technical and mental parts of orienteering, and it was possible to train and even compete in TrailO with a baby or a little child. My father Kari has taught me how to orienteer and has coached me since I was a teenager.”

Pregnant medal winner

She took part in her first TrailO competition when Venla was one month old. Pinja read the TrailO rules and ways of doing things while breastfeeding her oldest daughter. Now she has three daughters – Elsa 2 years old, Leila aged 3 and Venla 6.

“On week days I normally have short TempO training sessions when going to or coming back from work. At weekends I have more time for training, but every time I have to think about who is taking care of the children. Overall TrailO is quite easy to combine with family life: I won the WTOC TempO gold in Vuokatti in 2013 whilst I was pregnant, I have had Leila as a baby in the start quarantine area to give her breast milk before the start, and sometimes I have children with me in the smaller competitions. Venla has already started doing TrailO herself. And to be positive: when life is full of family and work, I feel very happy and free when Trail Orienteering. It is an optimal situation for good performance.”

2017: first PreO medal

In 2017 she again became a World Championship medalist. “First when I started TrailO I was mostly a TempO specialist, because TempO is more like FootO thinking than classical TrailO. Now after six years training I have got enough experience for assessing the correct locations of flags in PreO too. So this year I achieved my first World Championship medal in PreO with a silver.”

A secret of her success is that she is mentally very strong. She really enjoys being in big competitions and only concentrating on orienteering. “Then I can get into my ‘flow’, and the bigger the competition, the better is my rank in the result list. In small Finnish competitions I actually often lose even to my husband Vesa!”

Pinja is an environmental ecologist, making environmental impact assessments for different projects. She works 80% of full time on average, but sometimes she works much more than that.

– What’s your goal for the future?

“To get a World Championship gold medal also in PreO, to become a good course planner, and to continue having enjoyable experiences when Trail Orienteering.”

Pinja’s training

Pinja is very analytic and was one of the first Finns to train for Trail Orienteering not only by mapping but also by doing similar examples as at the events. Her most common training is TempO, speed TrailO training without any flags. Her father Kari, who has two big interests in life – his family and orienteering – is helping Pinja a lot. He is her coach and normally prepares five maps for a training session.

“The first of them shows the place where I should stand and the direction I should look in, and the other four have one control circle each in that area. Then I decide as fast I can where the correct place is for each control. This training is partly mental training, because I have to imagine control descriptions and flags. Sometimes I do well-prepared and flagged TempO or PreO training with other trail orienteers.”

“I also train PreO without flags, but for PreO training it is very important to study old competition and solution maps on the internet. Maybe the best PreO training is to be a course planner. Then you best understand how difficult it is to set a flag that is in every way in the correct place. And you learn to be more tolerant in competition situations and not to answer zero – when a flag is in an incorrect place – when you would like to have seen the flag just 1 metre from where it is.”

Text: Erik Borg

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