Dated February 27, 2009, the advice left on the USA team's webpage was premonitory: “Look out for her name at the top of some results lists in the next few years!” The name: Alison Crocker. The results: 18th place in Long Distance, 29th in Middle Distance and 20th place in Sprint, the best results ever of an USA athlete in the World Orienteering Championships. It's her our invited today.
The first question is always the easiest. Would you like to present yourself?
Alison Crocker (A. C.) - Hi! Sure. I started out as an athlete as a serious cross-country skier. I skied all through high-school and university. I was on the US Junior team for skiing, competing in Junior World Championships and U23 World Championships each twice. I still love skiing and especially love combining orienteering and skiing with ski-orienteering in the winters. Plus, it is simply the best cross-training and helps me avoid becoming over-trained and injured in running, by having a few months each year with less running training.
If I am right, you are preparing your PhD in Astrophysics. Would you like to tell me something about your studies, and how you combine it with orienteering on high level.
A. C. - You're definitely write about me studying Astrophysics, but I actually already finished my PhD, in 2009. =) But the time of my PhD was very important for my orienteering, actually. About 3 months into my studies, a friend brought me orienteering and I absolutely loved it. From that time on, I orienteered almost every weekend!
Does OUOC – Oxford University Orienteering Club provides a special program for top athletes?
A. C. - So OUOC was the club while I was at Oxford, studying for my PhD and it was great! The feedback from other athletes took me from absolute beginner level to placing in the top 10 in British Champs by my last year there.
What does your training program look like?
A. C. - Well, it varies a lot from summer to winter. But in summer, I'd say it's mostly running during the week, sometimes with reading-map exercises. Because I don't have any orienteering maps nearby. But my trainings are in the woods on trails as much as possible, although because it's so flat where I live, I also have to do hill workouts indoors on a treadmill. I really don't like that, but it's important as usually orienteering races have significant climb. On the weekends, I'll orienteer both days if possible, either at meets or just training at the maps in Southern Michigan, about an hour away.
Tell me something about your coach. What level of trust and complicity may exists between athlete and coach?
A. C. - Many, many people have helped me and provided advice and set trainings that have gotten me to the level of orienteering I'm at. I'm thankful to all of them. Most helpful is my orienteering mentor, who I check in with my global plans and what aspects of my technique I need to work on most. Those conversations are invaluable, because it's not always easy to have a full perspective of yourself.
This season you get in WOC the best individual result of your career so far. Would you remember for us the strongest moments of your Long Distance course?
A. C. - Gosh, most of it was such a blast! I loved the terrain, I loved that I could run fast, and I loved that in the slightly more technical parts, I was able to change pace and run mostly smoothly. I think the scariest, but in the end crucial part of the race for me was my decision to go far to the left, on big trails and roads to the control before the spectator control. In the race, I never knew if it was a good idea or not, but when it turned out it was, I was very happy!
Analysing the season, what is the difference between your initial goals and the final results? Did you expected even better in Vuokatti?
A. C. - I hoped to do better in the sprint at Vuokatti. I know I have good speed and I guess I didn't fully expect the complexity that the added fences put into the town. I was flustered many times and just didn't do well with it. We have very few sprint terrains that have that level of complication in the US, so I will have to find some other way to train for this discipline. But the result in the Long was much better than my goal of a top-25, so I'm very happy with that!
Which was, in your opinion, the Orienteering Achievement of 2013?
A. C. - I think there's just no way not to say Simone. To win all three individual golds to finish her career is just so impressive. But the story of the Ukrainian relay team taking third is also a favourite!
When we talk about orienteering in USA we are talking about what?
A. C. - We have great terrain, please come visit when we have a WRE and come see!! One of our biggest problems is simply how big the country is. It's very hard to get the elite runners together for training camps, because some must always fly and the flights are not cheap. And we don't have so many elite runners that all areas have successful regional training camps, but I think that's the way forward.
What do we need in order to see orienteering in USA at the same level of Europe?
A. C. - Time and growth in our junior program. We're really working on that right now. We have a junior coach now and several dedicated people organizing to try to connect the juniors from all over the country that are interested and want to compete at a higher level in orienteering. I think this is very important work!
How do you see the present moment of orienteering overall? Are we going in the right way?
A. C. - I don't think there is a 'right' way. I like both forest and sprint orienteering, so I'm not as disappointed as some that there is more focus at WOC on sprint. But I think because the qualification races are missing and many of our starts in the USA were in qualification races, for us, the North American Orienteering Championships will become a much bigger deal for the elite racers. I think this can be a good thing, to have really high-level and well-attended regional championships. It's certainly been the case for the European Champs for years.
What are your goals for 2014? And in the long-term, until when are we going to see you doing orienteering at the highest level?
A. C. - My goals are to improve on my results from WOC last year. I'd like to try to be top 20 again in the long, top 30 in the middle and top 20 in the sprint. We'll see if that's possible! After this summer, it's going to be a bit harder for me to dedicate as much time to orienteering, because of a job I've just accepted. That may be when I stop going to WOC, or maybe not, we'll see.
In the beginning of the year, I would like to ask you to make a wish.
A. C. - I wish all good and healthy training to start 2014 off well!!