The Balkan heroes

There are two orienteers, which have something in common: they both come from the Balkans, and both of them are world class orienteers. Ionut Zinka from Romania and Kiril Nikolov from Bulgaria. Kiril finished 6th in this year’s WOC sprint, and Ionut got the 8th place in the middle distance, showing the world that the Balkans are developing in the right direction.
Orienteering.is made a cross-interview with those two guys, discussing their way of living, their ambitions and careers.

Orienteering.is: How was your 2009-season? Are you happy with your results?

- Ionut Zinka: “For me 2009 was a very good year, I ran for the first time in the Scandinavian lands and I survived to tell. It was a new experience for me and a fantastic one I recall. I ran my first Jukola and it was great especially because our team finished among the first 20 teams. The next step for me was Hungary. I ran all the races and finished 8th in Middle Distance. I am happy with this season but could have done better at WOC - in the Long Distance.”

- Kiril Nikolov: “My main goal in 2009 was to be among the 6 best in WOC, and I fulfilled it! I mean the season was really successful. WOC has always been the most important competition for me, and I’m spending lots of time in preparations. I’ve always been dreaming and I’m still dreaming of WOC medal, and this 6th place gave me hope and strength to continue. I had some other successes this year, like Jukola and 25manna with my Norwegian club, and some disappointments (10mila, the long distance at WOC, the World Cup in Switzerland). But those things are motivating me to train more.”

Kiril Nikolov, Bulgaria. Photo: Jan Kocbach / WorldOfO.com

Orienteering.is: Can you tell us something about you? Where do you live, what are you doing?

- Ionut Zinka: I started in orienteering when I was 12 years old, in Romania. At the age of 19, I changed my life, I emigrated to Spain and started running there. In Spain I discovered the Alpine Marathon, In 2006I  took the 6th place in Andorra in the World Championships. In 2007 I got back to orienteering. My first WOC was in Ukraine where I finished as nr.12 in the long distance. After this WOC, I decided to stop working in Spain and try to do more at the next WOC in Czech Republic. But in the Czech Republic I was unlucky because one month before the competition I got a big ankle problem. After Czech Republic`s WOC I decided to try again in Hungary. I can say I’m very lucky because my club from Romania ( Universitatea Craiova) helped me a lot this time, investing in me not only money but passion and dedication. At the moment I am in Spain, where I started a new project, my own brand of orienteering & mountain running clothes.

- Kiril Nikolov: “I live in Sofia (the capital city of Bulgaria), where the possibilities for trainings are reduced, and if you want to train in the terrain you need a car, and minimum 3 hours of free time. I train mainly in the City Park. I’m also studying in the National Sports Academy, Orienteering programme.
I’m not from the people, who consider the orienteering as the only thing in their lifes. I’m taking some breaks from the orienteering, so that I can be more motivated during competitions and training camps. I’m also keen on mountainbiking, and also indoor climbing. I love the cinema, and I never miss the new and interesting movies. With my 6th place in WOC I managed to supply the bigger part of my sponsorship for the next year, which will help me to be almost professional in 2010 too.”

Orienteering.is : How is it to be an orienteer on the Balkans?

- Ionut Zinka: “It is ok, if you just want fun. But if you want performance in Romania, it is very hard. After the revolution in 1989 things changed a lot. Every year the number of people doing orienteering has declined. Last year in Romania I didn`t see any maps in 1:15 000 in official competitions. I think things will change in a better way in the near future.  I like more the policy of Bulgaria and Serbia, the quality of competitions there is better.”

- Kiril Nikolov: “To be an orienteer is wonderful all over the world. The Balkans has also some interesting terrains. The Nordic countries are the number one place for orienteers, but also here there’s something to learn. The Balkan Championship next year will be in a beautiful terrain, and the European Championship will not be so easy as many people think.
The biggest problem for the Balkan orienteers is that our countries don’t use so much money on sport. And without money, there aren’t enough maps. And without good maps, the level is decreasing – so you need to travel North-West, which is expensive. The clubs are making mostly sprint maps in the cities, and the real terrain in the mountains is unused. But there’s a thing that’s better on the Balkans : the weather!

Ionut Zinka, Romania. Photo: Jan Kocbach / WorldOfO

Orienteering.is: What are your goals for the next year?

- Ionut Zinka: “The EOC is the most important for me and I will give my best, that EOC will be in Bulgaria. Also The European Mountain Running Championships are my second objective for the year to come. I also want to do some Alpine Marathons in France and Italy.

- Kiril Nikolov: “I have many goals for the next year, but now I’m concentrating on the winter training. If it goes well, I can fulfil most of my goals”

Orienteering.is: What do you think about the other best competitor on the Balkans ? Is it good for you that there's one more high-level athlete in the area?

- Ionut Zinka: “It’s a pleasure to compete with and against Kiril, he is one of the best! Every time I compete against Kiril I have to be at 100% because he is a tough athlete and a good friend. But in the Balkan area there are more good runners from Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania and I hope they will get the chance to prove it."

- Kiril Nikolov: “I can say that Ionut Zinka is world class orienteer. He proved it with his 8th place in WOC. About the Bulgarian orienteers – there are some competitors that can do well in EOC. The number of elite orienteers on the Balkans is negative for us – if we had the same competition as in the Swiss, Norwegian, Russian, Finnish team, the development of the orienteers should have been much faster. Unfortunately, it’s impossible in Bulgaria : the people need to be financial independent to train well. The practice is that the children train well until they are 18, then they start studying and working, and when they are 27-28 they come back, as recreational athletes. But I hope it will change soon! And I hope one day, when I retire from the elite orienteering, that there’s something I can do to help bringing the Bulgarian orienteering to another level.”

Nikolov and Zinka. Photo: Milovan Mitrović / OK Paracin, Serbia