Interview with Tim Robertson

Running the first World Championship race at 16? Yes, this is Tim Roberston. Making a name for himself with his performances and results in critical races, Tim is the guest of this interview. Thank you so much for your time, see you around!

I would start by asking you to introduce yourself. Who is Tim Robertson ?

In 2012 I ran my first WOC just after my 16th birthday. I came 33rd in the sprint final. In 2013 I won my first JWOC medal, finishing 3rd in the sprint.

After winning my first gold medal at JWOC in 2014 I decided to move to Europe to pursue my orienteering dream. Since then I have lived in Norway, Austria and Sweden and run for Fossum IF, and Koovee internationally. I won JWOC again in 2015 and in 2018 I won my first medal at WOC in Latvia.

I’m currently in the 5th semester of an international business degree in Austria.

How did you meet Orienteering and why did you become “addicted” to this sport?

My older sister Laura Robertson started orienteering through school. My dad got bored of sitting waiting for her to run so he started and then convinced my mum and I to start too.

My family were into cross country and athletics before this so once Laura and I learnt to read the map we were already fast enough to be competitive.

The ‘addiction’ I think for me started when I had my first international trip for orienteering in Australia in 2009. I got to run in some beautiful terrain there and met friends for life. The addiction continued when I went to JWOC for the first time in 2011. I was 15-year-old, travelling in Europe competing. That had always been a dream for me.

When we analyse your career we see that your speciality in orienteering is sprint. When did you decided to focus on sprint?

On my first trip to JWOC in 2011 in Poland I realised that the forests in Europe are so much different to what we have back home in New Zealand. My best result by far was in the sprint because it wasn’t too different to the sprint maps we have at home. When I went back to New Zealand, it was obvious for me that the sprint would be the easiest event to train for as a NZ based athlete. So that’s what I chose to focus on. Since living in Europe I have tried to focus more in the forest but the sprint is still by far my strongest event.

What is the positive and negative sides of being from NZ? 

New Zealand is full of beautiful orienteering terrain and in one day you can be swimming in the ocean in the morning, on top of a mountain for lunch and then swimming in the ocean again in the evening. I think for orienteering the biggest negative for NZ is that all of the ‘bigger’ orienteering events are only held in Europe and to travel to Europe takes us 30 hours and costs between 1000 and 2000 Euros. If I wanted to compete in all 4 world cup events and live in New Zealand I would be spending over 10 days a year in the airplane!

For most of the orienteers in New Zealand, they can only afford time off work/studies for one Europe trip a year max, or maybe not even that. With less opportunity to race in Europe in relevant terrain it is difficult to reach the top in orienteering.

You are living in Sweden right now. What you thınk about swedish way to approcah orienteering?

I am living about 50-50 in Sweden and Austria at the moment. My university is now 100% online so I can be more flexible with where I spend my time.

I’m always impressed by the club environment in Sweden. Many clubs are meeting over 3 times a week to train together. Orienteering is a known sport in Sweden, it is part of the school curriculum and it can be common in the weekends to see ‘non orienteers’ out enjoying the forest with a map, especially in summer.

This year, the Swedish Champs were on national television and available to watch worldwide. I think this is a big step for orienteering to become a bigger sport.

What is your strategy in covid time? 

I have to admit I have struggled a lot with motivation especially during the start of the COVID time. I had a very good winter. I travelled home to New Zealand and spent a month there training and competing and when I returned to Europe, I was ready for the spring season. Unfortunately, all the events where cancelled and I stopped training for some time when this happened.

Through spring and summer I set myself projects to keep myself motivated for a month or two. I had a 5 day kayaking adventure through Sweden with over 160km, I was doing a lot of longer distance cycling in spring. And then in summer I decided to focus on athletics and set new PB’s on 1500m, 3000m and 10000m. Unfortunately, while trying to break 4 minutes in another 1500m race I injured my calf muscle and had to take 6 weeks off. But now I am back training hard again with the hope that the 2021 season will be different.

You showed us solid performances during your career till now. How do you keep it? Unfortunately, you had injuries so how do you manage to come back? 

I think the main reason is that I can still find the motivation to get out and train. I really love orienteering and I want to be the best I can for the big races.

I’ve had two surgeries now on my shoulder, coming back from these injuries were hard work but I had both of them during the off season and the goal was to be back fighting in time for the next season. I’ve been lucky to not have any long term injuries, I think these would be harder to come back from and I’m always impressed and inspired by runners and orienteers that come back after such injuries.

What keeps you going in orienteering?

I keep going because I love the sport. I love it because I get to travel to countries I would otherwise not get to see, and instead of travelling to the main city or main tourist destinations I get to visit the beautiful forest and small villages, meet the real locals and experience their culture. I don’t think that there are many sports that offer this.

Could you tell us something about your training routine ? Is there any type of training that you don’t like doing?

During normal weeks I train like a distance runner. In Austria I don’t live close to any maps, so I just focus on running when I am there. I train every day with around 2 – 3 faster sessions a week. I generally run between 100 and 140km a week. I upload all of my training to Strava so if anyone is interested in exactly what I am doing it is available for all to see.

I try to go on training camps or to competitions as much as possible and there I focus 100% on orienteering to make up for the technical training that I miss when I’m at home in Austria.

How do you work on your mental approach to orienteering? Are you offensiver or defensive orienteer ?

My mental training is mainly based around preparation for a specific race. Finding out where the area is, looking at old maps, setting courses with similar course lengths, number of controls and climb. Trying to find areas where there can be obvious traps.

This gives me a general overview of how everything is going to look before I get there. So when you are on your way to quarantine and the pre start, you already know where you are in relation to the finish and the technical areas. This helps me to get straight into the map after the start.

What’s your strength and weakness as orienteer?

I’m by far not the fastest. I have a best time for 3km of 8.36. Quite a long way off some of the guys!

I think my main strength is that I can hold a very high speed while orienteering. I am good at running stairs (both up and down) and tight corners.

I have been working a lot on my speed over the past years and the progress has been good.

My main weakness is losing concentration. Staying concentrated for a 15-minute sprint race is ok but when the races start to get longer, (middles and longs) I will often have a period where I lose concentration and make mistakes. I have been trying to work on this but it’s still a problem.

Have you got any tips to those who are starting now in Orienteering, the youngsters?

Try to experience as many new terrains as possible. Focus on learning the basics well. Don’t be afraid to ask an elite orienteer for advice, everyone that I know would be more that happy to share some of their experience with the youth.

Set goals, it may be a local competition or making it into your countries national team for EYOC or JWOC.

Most of all just enjoy our awesome sport, the places it can take you and the friendships you’ll make by doing it.

What are the top 5 most important skills in sprint in your opinion?

1. Getting into the map quickly

2. Simplification, only reading what is necessary

3. Memory

4. Preparation

5. Speed, not just in running but on stairs, corners, hills, jumping obstacles or anything else you may find in a sprint race!


Now we are moving to quick answers part;

Biggest achievement in your orienteering career?

Silver medal at 2018 WOC Sprint. 1 second behind team mate and legend Daniel Hubman.

Except from orienteering, your favorite team and sport?

This one is tough; can I say the New Zealand Olympic team and the Olympics in general.

Favorite distance ? Middle (Surprise!)

Favorite map and race?

Favourite map = Lahgi de Fusine Favourite race = Jukola

Favorite o-country ? New Zealand

Most unforgettable race? 

World games sprint relay, leading on leg 2 after starting 30 seconds down

Your ıdol?

Orienteering – Daniel Hubman, Gustav Bergman, Laura Robertson. Childhood hero’s, they both were in my local running club growing up – Jonathan Wyatt (8 time World mountain running champ) Nick Willis (2 time Olympic medalist 1500m)


All other sports, especially surfing, mountain biking and skiing. I like music and I play the piano.

Favorite training type?

Sprint intervals and mass start intervals.

City sprint or Park sprint? City

Europe or NZ? NZ

First start or Last start? Last start

Tights or orienteering pants? Tights

Formal or casual? Casual

Finland or Sweden?

Depends on where in each of them, I love both!

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