Hanny Alston introduced herself, at the age of 20, in the World Orienteering's Hall of Fame and then almost disappeared. Nine years later she is back on track, the same power on her legs, a new approach on her mind. A big applause for Hanny Alston, the Portuguese Orienteering Blog's invited today.
Starting from the beginning, can you remember your first steps in Orienteering?
Hanny Alston (H. A.) - Yes, it was on a local orienteering map, in Hobart. I was taken there because my brother was participating in school. I didn’t really enjoy it :) I was 11 years old.
When did you feel Orienteering as your sport? Was it the result of a particular moment?
H. A. - Not till I was 16 years old and I was on my first national team to New Zealand. A coach asked if I was going to nominate for the JWOC team going to Estonia the next year. I never thought I would travel, so it gave me huge motivation to try harder and train harder. But I didn’t believe in being a great orienteer till I was 18 years old and had competed in my first WOC in Sweden, 2004.
If not Orienteering, what would be your sport?
H. A. - I was a sprint 50m freestyler. And I was an elite track and field, marathon and trail runner. So I probably had the engine in me to go on many different paths. I still love trail running and wonder what more I could do with my marathon.
What means to you to be an “aussie” orienteer?
H. A. - Coming from a place where no one expects you to be the best in the sport of orienteering. It is an amazing feeling to succeed as the under dog.
I'm a great admirer of your career and everything you’ve achieved so far. Of course, I have this question for you: How was to win the WOC Sprint in 2006?
H. A. - Thanks so much. I appreciate your kind words. For me, the win in 2006 was super tough. I had just been through a family suicide attempt and had also had a full ankle reconstruction in which they thought I would never run again. Thankfully I proved them wrong! But I thought that winning might prove to myself that I had got out of this really hard hole. Sadly it didn’t. When I got my gold medal at first I was exhilarated. But then came this feeling of, ‘oh no! I am still Hanny and still have to go home and work out what to do with my life’. I wasn’t prepared for being a World Champion so soon. I had thought that it would take years. So without that goal there, everything started to feel tougher and more confusing.
A tremendous challenge for a 20 year old girl...
H. A. - Yes. And it happened in a time when we were still learning how to support elite athletes. I had no on-the-ground coach other than my athletics coach so it lead to being pulled and maneuvered to the running & athletics sports. I ended up trying marathon running with a debut of 2hrs47mins on a hilly course. So suddenly the Olympics and Commonwealth Games became on the agenda. I was also lost in my career as I pulled back from Medicine and tried teaching. I just felt like I didn’t know who I was or how I could keep winning (and thus coping with the pressure I was feeling). In 2009 I finally burnt out and took a couple of years off. But I missed the friendships, travel and feeling of fitness so I decided to come back into the sport that I once loved so that I had “no more regrets”.
I believe that your gold was really important as a sign for the non-european athletes, that they also could think about reaching the top of the podium. Did you have the same impression? Could you understand, from that achievement, a new approach to the big competitions (at least in Australia and New Zealand)?
H. A. - Thanks. I appreciate this too. Look, I do think it made us all sit up and go, ‘wow, we can do it to’. I really do believe that we have it amazingly great in our countries. We don’t battle with epic snow and cold winters. Many of us also come from countries which place great emphasis on sport. Therefore, I believe we can train smart, all year round. I think we should believe that physical preparation is our weapon so all we need to focus on when we go to Europe is being careful and learning the finer details of the competition terrain.
Nine years later, we could see you again in the podium. Not with a medal, that’s true, but still in the podium. What particular emotion did you feel that day, three months ago, in Forres?
H. A. - Relief. I would have been happy to finish without another podium result because I was now just having fun. But the relief did hit me like a train because finally I realised I had found the answer to what I was looking for, that “2006 was not a fluke”. I believe my run this year was as good as the run that own me the gold medal in 2006. I just think that the bar is lifting in our sport right now.
How was your training time? Did you feel well prepared for the WOC? What goals have you drawn?
H. A. - Lol, no, I felt very, very under prepared. I was very fit because I was competed on the international stage for trail & skyrunning. But I literally ran (both race and training) a total of four sprints all year. Like literally NO orienteering preparation other than World Cup in Tasmania and our selection trials. And I only had three days in Scotland before the Championships to prepare myself for every distance. But I think, because of all of this, I approached the race very fit but also very cautious. I was 120% focussed on my navigation. Therefore, I made two mistakes in the whole of my 2015 WOC campaign - across six races. I am very, very proud of this result. More so than the podium.
What motivation this results represent for the future?
H. A. - To be honest I now don’t feel like I have the same desire to prove anything to myself. I could quite contentedly wander away from elite orienteering now. I am not a terribly competitive person but rather love the camaraderie, travel and racing myself. So that same burning light is not there any more. Therefore, I am not sure about 2016. I am still trying to work through this question at the moment. But I love coaching the juniors and would love to continue trying to give back to my sport.
Do you feel an example for the australian girls? What responsibility do you feel about that?
H. A. - Yes, I think that is a true statement for me. But also to the boys too. I hope that it has helped even one junior or senior out there to believe we can match it with the best of them. But I also hope that people appreciate just how much blood, sweat, tears and money goes into achieving such successes. I, my partner and my family have made many, many sacrifices to reach this level. And I am always juggling a million balls just to afford the time and money to do this sport. Hopefully that can set the example that you don’t have to give up everything to move to Scandinavia to be the best in the world.
Now that a new season is about to come, I ask you a wish for those who love and are committed with Orienteering.
H. A. - I wish that every orienteer finds peace in the knowledge that your success is in the journey. If you are proud of how hard you have worked towards your goals then the result doesn’t really matter. And I hope every orienteer can experience that perfect, clean run when everything comes together. There is no better feeling than that.
[Photo courtesy of Hanny Alston]