This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An Estonian graphic designer hoping to ride all the way to the Olympics, and Swiss student who organizes techno festivals at a former women’s prison
Janika: I’m here for a mountain bike competition in the Jezreel Valley. This is my first time competing in Israel. It’s a race in stages, beginning on Wednesday and ending on Saturday. It’s a race in couples. My partner for this competition is also from Estonia. We have to advance together and fix the bikes ourselves if something happens. I am collecting points for the Olympics, and in this competition they give out a lot of them.
How do you collect points for the Olympic Games? And how many do you need?
In the Olympics the mountain bike competition lasts an hour and a half. You ride in a circle and the first cyclist to arrive after an hour and a half wins. There are 34 places, but only 20 countries can participate, so the riders accumulate points in preliminary competitions – let’s say first place is worth 100 points, second 90, third 80, and the country that accumulates the most points also gets the most spots. Right now Estonia is in 22nd place. I really hope that we get in, because the chances are good that I will be the one to go to the Olympics, because I’m the only one who is getting points.
How many do you have?
I have about 2,000, and I’m always checking where I stand.
Is this what you do in life?
I am a graphic designer. That’s how I earn money, which I spend on competition, so it’s hard for me to say of myself that I am a professional, but I compete at the highest level, in international competitions and world championships. Because of the points, I’m always traveling: Norway, Canada, the United States, and I’m arriving here from a competition in Budapest.
Were there points in Budapest?
It was hard core, very demanding physically. Budapest is very nice, it’s divided into two: The Buda part is flat, but the competition was held on the Pest side, in a mountainous region. It was one of the hardest races I’ve participated in, with a lot of uphill and downhill. I finished third and got 30 points. It was annoying, because I had previously beaten the two people who finished ahead of me.
How many years have you been competing?
I haven’t always been a competitive biker. It started four years ago as a project of mine and my husband’s. We both work from home – Urmas is a programmer – and it was boring just to sit and work on the computer. We’re both athletic types, so we took the bikes and started to ride. Before that, I ran and my husband rode a bike, and today he does the managing and helps with the logistics and prepares food. We do everything together – we eat together, ride together and we have a family business. We’ve been together for 10 years, and I’m sure I couldn’t have done all this without him.
Very nice of him to dream with you.
At the beginning the Olympics was just an unrealistic fantasy, because when I started I was ranked 400th in the world [among women riders]. Today it’s different – in the World Cup Tournament I reached 13th place, and in the European Championships, I finished ninth. I’m now ranked 11th in the world. [Since the interview she’s slipped back to 14th place.] It was an amazing year for me, but you can’t pursue a dream like this if you work in an office, and in general it’s best to have a sponsor.
How come you don’t have a sponsor?
In general, all the bicycle companies support teams and professional riders from big countries, but Estonia is a really small country, just a million people altogether. We have maybe 20,000 bike riders, so there’s no real market and it’s not worth their while economically. Almost all the other women who compete at my level only ride. But I have to work, too.
The toughest part for me is in finding a balance between work and riding. There is also a lot of travel and flying, which I don’t really like. But my husband and I like this life. We are adventurous types.
What did your life look like before you started chasing the dream?
When we were home and not traveling, we would get up at 8 every morning and get home at 6 and just sit on the sofa and watch TV. We didn’t do anything and we didn’t see anything, but now we meet people and we’re always traveling. It’s true that with the money we’ve spent on competitions we could have bought a house already, and the only property we have in Estonia is a dog, but when we lived like everyone we didn’t feel free. But now, living with a tight schedule and all the competitions, we feel a lot more free.