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Emily Benham Kvåle – Mountain Bike Orienteering Athlete of the Year 2017

2017 was again an incredible year of sport for Emily Benham Kvåle, but the biggest happening of all was not at the sports ground.

“Getting to marry my best friend was the best and happiest day of my life. I gained a husband, a new surname and have the best in-laws one could wish for,” wrote Emily on Facebook just after her wedding with the Norwegian Hans Jørgen Kvåle on September 9th.

The British rider and Hans Jörgen, who for years was one of the best in the world in Ski Orienteering, became a couple in 2011. “About seven months later I went to Norway and Sweden for what was meant to be a two months trip. Two months has now become five years,” Emily smiles. The wedding was in Nes Church close to where they are living in Norway.

“It was so much fun to get married! On the day, I didn’t know what to do. I felt nervous as I do before races, but with no warm-up or race, I wasn’t sure how to handle these feelings! After a while, I was excited and couldn’t wait to get to the church and marry my man.”

Their closest friends and family took part in the wedding. “It was lovely to share the weekend with them. We didn’t organize any training, but we did have a BBQ for all our guests the night before the wedding at our house, and then breakfast the day after the wedding. We knew on the day we wouldn’t have much time to interact with anyone, so we made it a weekend, which was great. It gave us more time to laugh and joke with the people who are important to us.” The newly married couple live in Brandbu, a little town a couple of hours drive north of Oslo where Hans Jørgen has grown up.

New race successes

Regarding MTBO, Emily has simply become better and better, and 2017 has again been a remarkable year.

“To be honest I’m not sure how I managed to do so well this year. My motivation for orienteering at races was really low, and I had to work really hard to get myself into the right mind-set before each and every race. Hans Jørgen was a huge part of that, and he always knows what to say or do to help me get there. Apart from the ten World Cup races, I only participated in two other MTBO races, which may seem a bit strange but it allows me to keep my focus on the races that matter and put all my mental energy into those.”

Most of the 28-year-old’s races were not perfect in the way Emily would have wanted. “But two came close this year – the Long Distance in Austria at WOC and the Middle Distance at the Europeans. For me, these two races were really controlled and good fun to be racing. The Austrian Long Distance was interesting because I didn’t feel at any point as if I was doing anything special, but yet, for the final 25 percent of the course, I had the feeling it was a winning ride.”

A new standard

Even though there hasn’t been so much MTBO, Emily’s standard has risen to a new peak. As in 2016, she won two golds at the MTBO World Championships. She medalled also in every World Championship race she started, and the World Cup was won for the fourth time in a row. She has more World Cup wins in MTBO than any other athlete, according to Wikipedia, and is the MTBO Athlete of the Year.

“The reason for getting to a higher level this year is mostly just through physical training, but I spent 2012-2015 doing extensive theoretical map training in preparation for the major races. One year I did 600 hours of purely theoretical work on my computer, using Catching Features and constantly riding with the upcoming race maps. It’s given me a really good base to work from, and something I reap the benefits from now.”

– How is it to practice MTBO at your standard in Norway?

“I’m lucky that we have a few good/great MTBO terrains within two hours of us, but after living here for five years, we have to come up with new ways to use terrain we know very well. Having been doing MTBO for ten years and FootO for eight years before that, I have a decent bank of experience to draw upon at races. It doesn’t seem to have been a disadvantage at all to move to a country where there is no interest in MTBO.”

– What’s the next goal?

“I have no idea. After the season I was first biking for fun and then there came a long break from biking. The wedding was the end of the year for me, and I didn’t give any consideration to what would happen after that! We’ve brought home a gorgeous male Golden Retriever, so a big goal right now is to train him really well, and eventually have him Search and Rescue trained.

Enjoying map-making

Emily is educated as a physiotherapist and worked with that for a few years, but she failed to find much satisfaction. “After coming to Norway, I did some more mapping and really enjoyed it. It’s become my main job here, even though I only work in the autumn until early spring. I love being in the forests, breathing the fresh air and finding the details to put on the map. I find it refreshing to be out there, completely alone and returning home for a hot shower after a cold day.”

A lot of planning

In combination with sport and work, the wedding was prepared.

“For the wedding, I didn’t really know how to go about it, and it was difficult for Hans Jørgen and me to find time to sit down together and discuss things. After a while, ideas developed. We used a brand new Ski Centre building for the reception, which was very sparse inside. It was a huge job to develop the ideas and vision of how we wanted it to look. All the decorations were hand-made by myself and my mum, which was a good five months of work, but it was nice to do something different between training sessions, and on the day it looked so much better than I dreamt! It was a perfect day!

– How is it to be Benham Kvåle?

“I wanted to keep Benham as part of my name, so in Norwegian style I moved it to my middle name. I gave it a lot of thought, and always thought I would be Benham-Kvåle, but when I thought five or ten years into the future, I wasn’t sure that would be the name I would want to use. A good compromise was to be Emily Kvåle, and have Benham as a middle name. I only intend to use Benham Kvåle for racing though.”

Commission work

The world leader, who is from Salisbury in Wiltshire, England, is also in the MTBO Athletes’ Commission in IOF. “MTBO is at a time where there aren’t any major rule changes going on. Mostly we’re just tweaking things as the sport develops. We’ve had five years now with a lot of development in the formats and structure of races. The main issue at the moment is how do we deal with rule breaking, primarily where short-cutting is involved in terrain where we are not allowed off track. There doesn’t seem to be the consistency the athletes need in how the rules are applied, but it’s proving challenging to write the rule in a way that isn’t ambiguous.”

Text: Erik Borg

Photo: Donatas Lazauskas


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