The Portuguese Orienteering Blog bets on plurality as its hallmark. Follows with the same interest all Orienteering disciplines, feels the same taste in writing about a World Cup stage or an event in a Saharawi refugee camp and don't choose the interviewees depending on their gender or age. Hence some may wonder seeing lately so many youngsters sharing their experiences here on the blog - and I'm talking about Sara Hagström, Veronika Kubinova, Olli Ojanaho or Angus Robinson, to mention only the most recent. Today, on the Portuguese Orienteering Blog's tribune, we welcome again a young athlete. Simona Aebersold is only 17 years old, having been born in Bern on 13 April 1998. She lives currently in Brügg and studied, during the last year, Grammar School. And she is “only” the current Junior World Orienteering Champion in Sprint!
I'm sure you'll understand that we have to start our interview talking about your gold in Norway, last July. Can you remember that glorious Sprint course?
Simona Aebersold (S. A.) - Well, I remember that it was a very beautiful day with a lot of sun. I was already quite nervous the day before but when I woke up the nervousness was even bigger. I knew that it was my first time at JWOC and therefore I hadn't expected so much of the first race. I saw it as an establishment and my aim was a top 15 place.
At the start this nervousness went away and I could concentrate myself on the race. I didn't know that my speed was so high, so I couldn't believe that, in the finish, the speaker said that it could be a medal or even the golden one. I guess that a big part of my success was also thanks to my preparation. I hadn't especially focused on this Sprint race but rather on the whole week. For the Sprint I put a lot of effort in looking at the maps and drawing several courses. When I saw where the quarantine was located, I knew approximately where the start had to be. That was a big relief which took a lot of pressure away. I think during the time after my finish, until knowing that I won, it was like being in another world. I just remember that I was running next to the arena and was listening to the speaker in the background. I also have to say that was great to see so much swiss people and also people from my Finnish club, Tampereen Pyrintö, in Norway.
How important is that medal for you?
S. A. - This medal means so much to me. Especially because I was only dreaming about winning a medal at JWOC once. I didn't even think that I could win a medal already this year, not to mention a gold one. But I think it is a matter of team spirit that helps us to have such success. If you're having a nice time with your team mates it is much easier to do a good race at those competitions. I'm really happy that I managed the step to the best juniors in the world. This gives me the confidence that I'm on the right way.
How did you start in Orienteering? Was it a “family matter” or something related with friends or school?
S. A. - I grew up in an Orienteering family, with my father as a former competitor at World Championships. So I was taken to all the competitions already as a little child. Later on, with about 8 years, I started to compete in national orienteering events. As the whole family was competing at the national events, it was easy for me to get there. So, at the age of 14, I got into the regional squad and since this Autumn I'm a member of the national junior team.
Did you feel engaged with Orienteering since the very first experience or is it possible to point a precise moment when you said to yourself: “ - That's it, Orienteering is my sport”?
S. A. - I'm not able to point out a precise moment because I was kind of connected to orienteering since I was a little child. I was always fascinated by orienteering and my big dream was to once win a gold medal at World Championships in the Elite class. And I always said that Orienteering is more interesting than Athletics because of the map you have to read. When I'm running in Scandinavian terrain, I always think that it was the right decision to do orienteering because it is so much fun to run in the forest. Also a big moment was this year's JWOC. I realized how much fun it is to run for medals at World Championships in such beautiful terrain.
How do you manage your studies with a demanding physical activity like Orienteering?
S. A. - At the moment I'm studying at a college and I'm preparing for my final exams next summer. There is some kind of sports program which I attend. So I can adapt my school timetable to my trainings and the teachers are mostly very flexible concerning my absences. Fortunately, I'm going to have my final exams next spring, so afterwards I can focus full time on Orienteering. I'm really looking forward to pass a year out of school in Tampere!
And what about your school mates? Is Orienteering a very popular sport in your school/city?
S. A. - Orienteering is not very popular in my school. There's rather football, which everyone knows or Gymnastics because there are a lot of gymnasts studying at my school. Thinking that, ten years ago, nobody knew Orienteering, it's good to notice that today there are only a few that don't know my sport. Whereas in my village there are a lot of people knowing Orienteering.
How committed are you with Orienteering?
S. A. - Actually, I spend a certain time every day with Orienteering because of my daily training. And, as you have a lot of trainings with friends, you surely talk about orienteering. If there's only a running workout planned, there's surely either a map or a discussion about orienteering at home. As we say: Once an orienteer always an orienteer!
Have you other important moments in your career that you'd like to share?
S. A. - One big moment in my career is definitely the winning of the silver medal with Sofie [Bachmann] and Sandrine [Müller], also in Norway, this summer. It was such a great feeling when Sandrine came down the hill in silver position because of the nerve-racking course of the race.
And of course there were my two Sprint titles at EYOC last year and the year before which represented great experiences in international competitions. But there's also the experience in Scandinavian terrain in the two big Relays - Jukola and Tiomila -, which were very important to me. I gained a lot of experience in Scandinavian terrain.
What are your goals for the next season? Are you already preparing yourself for that?
S. A. - At the moment I spend a lot of time with the national junior team. We are preparing intensively for our big goal next season, the JWOC in our country. For me it's a very good opportunity to learn new things by talking to the other athletes, maybe even to some of the best in the world. I can take advantage from the training camps in foreign countries. But, for me, the most valuable thing is that we are a good team with a lot of fun. Therefore, we also have fun practicing our sport and are looking forward to all the great meetings with the whole junior team.
My main goal is definitely the JWOC in my homeland. Especially because it will take place in Switzerland, I have a lot of opportunities to prepare myself. I want to fight for the medals and confirm the good shape of last summer. We've already had one training camp last year and one this year in the region of this big event. In addition, I also spent some time in Engadin, beside the stays with the national junior team. The other goal is, of course, the JEC in Great Britain, where I can still run in my age class W18. I've never been in this country before but I'm exited how it's going to be.
Are you prepared to “jump” the most important step, joining the Elite class?
S. A. - I think I am ready and I also competed in some races of the Elite class this year. But there's still a lot of time until that step and I'm enjoying my time as a Junior. I'm now, maybe, on the right way to the Elite class, but I still have to gain a lot of experience until this big step. Next season I'll be only in my second year as a Junior so I have much time to think about and how to prepare myself for that.
Would you like to share your biggest wish?
S. A. - That's a difficult question... On the one hand I always wanted to stay in Finland for a longer time. This big wish is now coming true as I'm staying there from next summer to prepare optimally for JWOC 2017 in this area. I really like the terrain up there and also the mentality of the people living there. I'm really looking forward to running in the finnish forests. On the other hand, there's of course the wish to once winning a medal at World Championships in the Elite class. But there's, as I've said before, still a lot of time until the next big step from the Junior team to the Elite class.
Now that a new season is about to come, I ask you a wish to all orienteers all over the world.
S. A. - I wish that they can fulfil their dreams and enjoy orienteering as much as I do!
[Photo: Swiss Orienteering]