One moment, two special persons, three chapters... An Interview with Thierry Gueorgiou and Annika Billstam, some interesting ideas about themselves, the way they see the Portugal O' Meeting and how they feel in Portugal.
Let me start our Interview by asking you in what language we are going to talk. I remember that you told me that you saw a movie once in Sweden with Annika, she liked it a lot, you liked it too, but... you didn't understand a word. And now, can you speak Swedish?
Thierry Gueorgiou (T. G.) - (laughs) I think that my Swedish is not really good yet– in fact it's really bad -, but Annika's French is quite good. Well, our common language is English, let's talk in English.
Thierry said that your French is quite good. Do you travel a lot to France?
Annika Billstam (A. B.) - Last year I went quite many times to France, but not this winter. All of this mainly depends on our agenda, the WOC will be in Finland, the best areas for training at this time of the year are in the South, in Portugal. So, France is not a priority.
You choose the same competitions, the same Training Camps and you travel together, or you go to one place and Thierry goes to another?
A. B. - We travel with our teams and Sweden and France don't always have the same plans. But here in Portugal the things went well.
How did you meet each other?
T. G. - Like a lot of orienteer couples, we met in the international competitions. We started to get to know each other a little bit like this. It was in 2011, when a lot of teams were training in France. I was helping the Swedish team and we met at that time.
How do you see Annika?
T. G. - I knew her before their orienteering results, which were really good. But the way I see Annika is very different from the results' way.
And what about Thierry, is he quite a nice guy?
A. B. - (laughs) Yes. He is very polite, he has been a really good help and he is very professional as a sportsman.
Do you bring Orienteering inside your home or it stays at the door?
A. B. - When you live Orienteering as your profession, you have to bring it inside the walls of your home. It should be that way, I think, when you love this sport.
T. G. - We both have the same goals in our sport. If you want to be the best, you can't think about it just in the trainings. You must think about it all the time. Of course, we try to have some moments when we are more relaxed, we do something else, but Orienteering is a big part of our lives.
Do you discuss the training methods?
T. G. - We discuss the methods, we share some ideas... We have two different ways to train, but, let's say, about 25% of our trainings, we do it together. We care a lot about the way we train and the way we prepare for the races. But this is an individual sport, we spent a lot of time alone in the forest and we'll never succeed without our own plans.
As an orienteer, what do you admire the most in Thierry?
A. B. - For sure, his technical skills, but also his mental strength. I must say that I have my own mental strength but I feel some difficulties in picking them facing every competition, although I think that Thierry has this strength.
And you Thierry, what do you admire the most in Annika as an orienteer?
T. G. - She is able to relax quite much between the races, she can keep a good mood all over the season. This is something that I really admire about her, because for me it's a total disaster when I don't win a race. Annika can keep more a natural flow and it's very good to not be very extreme. If we try to find a balance, I think that Annika is quite good at it.
Let's say that you have three hours now to do something that you like the most, but Orienteering. What do you do?
T. G. - It depends on where you are, because in Sweden, of course, you prefer to stay inside and see a movie if it's snowing. But if the weather is good, I like to go outside, pick up blueberries or mushrooms. But, unfortunately, we don't often have the time to do nothing.
A. B. - Despite being outside most of the time, I like to do Ice Skating, which is very nice in Sweden, because we have nice conditions. But if I stay at home, I also like cooking, making some fresh juices. Definitely, I like cooking.
Does Thierry like what you cook?
A. B. - No... (laughs) We share some ideas, in spite of the big differences between the Swedish and the French cuisines. But he's a good cooker, I think.
How did you see the Portugal O' Meeting this year?
A. B. - As good as it was last year. I almost feel sorry for finding out about the Portugal O' Meeting so late, because it's a really nice event. And I can see here a lot of other people, for Sweden, for example. They enjoy this a lot and I think that, for the future, I will often come back.
Can you tell me something about your four days?
A. B. - The first day, the Long Distance, it had been quite a long time since I had run in the forest for the last time – I was in New Zealand, but it wasn't that much about Orienteering – and I made some mistakes. I found the terrain very difficult in some parts. I was far behind already in the first day, but I managed to do quite good races on second and third days. I must say that the second day was my best day. In the end I think that the second position was very good, even though I lost some time to Simone [Niggli]. To lose time is always frustrating, but at this time of the year I'm never fast enough but, like in the previous years, I hope to improve my speed in the next months.
Do you like the “chasing start” system?
A. B. - Yes, I like it a lot. It's a 'man to man' competition, it's really good. I didn't feel the pressure that much, I had more than two minutes over Amélie [Chataing], so I could be very calm at the beginning, felt quite safe all over the race, even though I made a big mistake at the second last control. I'm happy with the result, but the time behind is too much, I think.
And you, Thierry, what are your conclusions in the end of the Portugal O' Meeting?
T. G. - As I said before, Portugal O' Meeting is always a very high standard. This is a very nice event for Elite orienteers because you know that you'll never be disappointed. For me, the Portugal O' Meeting is also a 'check point' in the winter, it breaks a little bit the winter in two parts. I've been doing quite a lot of good trainings before - and it will be the same, I hope, after – and I like to be here in a 'competition mood'. Again, Portugal O' Meeting has fulfilled my hopes in therms of quality.
Is there one moment that you liked the most in this four days of competition?
T. G. - Yes, it's always the same. It's when you come to the competition's Arena, you don't know the terrain that well, you don't know what to expect, and then you see these fantastic hills and you already know that it will be a fantastic day for Orienteering. It's the feeling here, it was the same feeling in Monsanto, when you see the little village and the castle on the top, you know that it will be a very special moment. When you're really passionate, you really like this kind of challenges, you can see that it will be such a nice day. And it's always the same in Portugal; you come into the Arena, you find a place in the car parking, you look around and you know that it will be a very special day.
And what about the last day? Did you like the “chasing start” system?
T. G. - Yes, of course. It's nice to finish like that, it makes the full competition really interesting. You have to set the full standards all days. What is a little bit frustrating – but I can understand, it's normal – is that many people here are in Training Camps, they don't run fast every day, so the results are a little bit strange. But at this time of the season you have to respect this, every athlete has different plans.
Let's forget the Orienteering and have some talk about Portugal. Do you like Portugal?
A. B. - Yes, a lot. I would like to explore the cities a little bit more, like Lisbon, which I know is World Heritage. Otherwise, I like everything I see, the landscape, the accommodation, the friendly atmosphere...
What about our food?
A. B. - Specially the coffee (laughs). Yeah, I love your coffee.
And you, Thierry, what does Portugal mean to you?
T. G. - For me, Portugal is one of the best places in Europe. It's the country that I've been to the most and it has always been a big, big pleasure. People are amazingly nice, it has been really fantastic to meet people and I have friends everywhere. I think that Portuguese people are really friendly and this is something that I really appreciate.
Annika says that she likes the coffee. And you, do you have something special that you like?
T. G. - Yes, I think that the food was extremely good every time I've been to restaurants. I like specially 'bacalhau' [cod fish], of course, but also 'pastéis de nata' [egg tart pastry].
To finish our talk, I've got something for you. It's not food, I have to tell you. It's the Ana Moura's last record, and it's Fado, also a World Heritage. Do you like Fado?
A. B. - I've never heard Fado, I'm sorry... (laughs)
T. G. - Me neither. But I promise we'll listen.
If you like Portugal, I'm sure that you'll love Fado!
[Six days later, Thierry sent me a message with these words: “Joaquim, I took too long to send you this message, but I would really like to thank you for your kindness to Annika and me. You guessed right, we loved the CD a lot. Thank you very much for showing us a little more of the Portuguese culture.”]