Aidan Smith – Junior World Orienteering Champs

JWOC 2015 was the final championship of my junior international orienteering career. From age 13 I had decided that I wanted to compete for Great Britain at 2 EYOCs and 4 JWOCs, with the aim of being able to win medals as a top year junior. As such JWOC this year was both the end of my junior career and a major stepping stone towards the next level as an athlete. The John Taylor Foundation’s contribution helped me fund the large athlete contribution, which had almost tripled from 2014. This covered both a preparation camp in the Lake District and the championship itself. The Lakes training was a good opportunity to get together as a team, and with a very young women’s team this year, get to know new teammates as well as guys I’ve been to training camps/internationals for years with. It also allowed us to start sharing preparation and make sure we were working together towards top results at JWOC.

Approaching JWOC itself I’d had an almost ideal training year. While I hadn’t been able to do a large volume of technical training or training on soft ground in the build up due to being at university, the training I had done had gone really well, I’d avoided any major injury/illness and significantly improved my running ability year on year. I picked up a small niggle and minor illness in my final build up but knew that physically I was still capable of improving on my top 30 results from 2014, particularly as these had been achieved with poor technical performances. The first few days in Norway were a useful opportunity to get into the forests and see for myself the terrain I’d spend hours looking at on the internet and visualising. The visibility was lower than I’d imagined it would be but on the whole I liked the terrain type, although I was also very aware that it would be much harder to achieve a top result with all the top Scandinavian competitors feeling at home in that forest.

The championship started with the Sprint race, in which I finished 7th. I hadn’t known exactly what I was capable of results wise and so was just focused on orienteering cleanly and pushing as hard as I could where possible. It was agonising to be so close to the top 6, with only a couple of seconds separating me from my first international podium. The result was a tremendous source of motivation though, and left me wanting more for the rest of the week, particularly looking forward to Long as my favourite discipline after confirmation my physical shape was good enough for podium. The next day I made it through a wet and scrappy Middle qualification, despite one large mistake, although I struggled to find a technique to race at podium level in that terrain. In the final I ran very well in the early part, but then became more scrappy technically in the final loop as the terrain became more like the qualifier. In addition I sprained my ankle coming into the spectator loop. I ran through it for the rest of the course but rolled it a couple more times which knocked my speed a little, and finished 19th, which was a respectable result but not what I had been dreaming of. However, my next 24 hours were spent obsessing over my ankle injury so I didn’t have time to dwell on the Middle. On the rest day morning I honestly doubted I would be able to run the Long, but thanks to some incredible physio support and a lot of ankle strapping, I forced myself to ignore the pain and jog. On the morning of the Long I knew it wouldn’t be ideal but I would be able to race. At the start of the race I was aware of the ankle but by the end I was totally focused on the race. I pushed hard from the start, and other than a small mistake on the 6th control ran cleanly, taking good routes. As we approached the TV control I had the Swedish runner who started 2 minutes ahead of me in sight, and worked hard to close the gap and go straight through him by the road crossing. Physically I felt very good and comfortable the whole race, and went through the spectator control in 2nd. One small miss in the final loop cost me some seconds but I still finished in 2nd place, and couldn’t have expected a better performance from myself on the day. The next two hours were some of the most agonising of my life but when Oli Ojanaho finally won it I knew I would be 4th.

There was again some of the disappointment of the Sprint, knowing I was within touching distance of a medal, with the added sadness that I’d run my final JWOC individual and with it had gone my chances of ever winning a JWOC medal. However, being on the podium was still amazing and it was satisfying for my training to have paid off and to have something to show for my final JWOC, and junior career. It was also a really useful experience to put myself under that kind of pressure at an international race and contest the top places, which I’ve never done before, and a result which will really help me as I aim to step up into the senior elite ranks.

JWOC ended with the relay, where the first two legs in the reselected first team struggled and I was put out with little to fight for on 3rd. It was a lacklustre end to my final JWOC, but still a very memorable week that I’ve taken a lot of experience from. Thanks again to the John Taylor foundation for the help with funding.