I’ve been orienteering nearly all my life, my family all went together to local events throughout my childhood and I became a part of the local club Manchester and District. My Dad still reminds me of the time he taught me how to use a compass on Alderley Edge, and I have countless memories of playing with friends at Lyme Park on summer evenings. As I got a bit older I joined the North West Junior Squad and developed hugely from lots of coaching and training camps. I’m so grateful for all the work the many coaches, but especially John, Sue and Richard, have put in over the years and thus given so many juniors amazing experiences! The 3 Norway tours I went on are where I fell in love with the sport and made great friends, enabling me to experience how good orienteering can be. However, all throughout my time in the squad I wasn’t very good at running, I was quite chubby, and my map reading was a bit rubbish as well. I had a long way to go!
I managed to get into the England and GB teams, running multiple Interland’s, JHI’s and EYOC’s. My results at the international races were okay but nothing special, nothing to say “this guy’s good”. But I knew and was always reminded by my all-knowing father and brother that I was on an upward curve – I can get to the top I just need to keep going down the path. And they were all incredibly valuable experiences that showed me what the big races were like, and how to perform well at them. I was doing well but for years everyone had been talking about JWOC as the pinnacle of junior orienteering, and I knew I wanted to get there – a huge achievement in itself.
It took me a couple of years trying to get selected for JWOC but last year I went out to Finland with the team. It was incredible, the 300 best juniors from around the world, all together for a week of serious quality racing. My results were again nothing special but one of my best mates got GB’s best ever results, and a coveted podium place (which in orienteering is top 6). This was amazing, and so inspiring! I wanted that, but unfortunately, I’m no way near as talented – problem!
I decided to spend the next year committing fully to performing at JWOC. That doesn’t mean I became a hermit for the year and never went outside other than to train, but I made sure in every decision I made I considered how it would affect my results. This was very tough at times, and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re pretty certain of what you want, but it is definitely the best way to succeed in sport (and probably life).
I arrived at JWOC knowing that no matter what happens I did my best over the year to do as well as I can, and I can be proud of that. Monday was the long race and although I ran well, the result was again nothing special (27th), and I felt demoralized, maybe I can’t get the result I want? Maybe it isn’t worth the effort? Maybe I’m just not good enough yet?
The next day was the sprint. Let me put this into context. I have been told my whole life that I’m not fast enough to do well at sprint. I know that I’m 2 minutes slower than the best over 5km. I have no chance of success, so may as well not care about the result and enjoy it, right?
Even though I knew I had no chance, I had still done everything I could to prepare for the race. I spent tens of hours making a map from street view to familiarize myself with every building. I spent tens of hours with my coach talking about technique and planning my physical training. I spent hundreds of hours out in the cold and the rain on my own, training hard.
And I got lucky. The course was among the most technical international sprint races there’s ever been, which suited me perfectly. All the favourites made big mistakes, opening the door for an outsider. I had a very good race, not perfect as I got a couple of route choices wrong, but my execution was almost perfect.
I finished and I was in the lead. 2 hours passed by, with everyone starting faster than me but all making mistakes. 2 runners left to finish, a German and a Hungarian. Everyone thought I had it. The Hungarian came 8th. The German beat me by 8 seconds.
Sport is brutal.
But that was the joint best result Britain has ever had at JWOC. I think I’ll take it.
Matt being interviewed after the JWOC Long
Matt, on left, with his Silver medal
Matt in the forest