News & Updates

15 February 2023 • Cross Country

Dual international Robertson relishes World Cross test

Tim Robertson impressed at the 2022 New Zealand Cross Country Championships in Taupo when winning a bronze medal. Credit (Michael Dawson).

World orienteering champion Tim Robertson is all set to make his international debut in a new sport on Saturday when he competes in the senior men’s team at the 2023 World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst. Steve Landells chats to the Swedish-based Hutt Valley Harrier to find out more of his story.

It was on the trails of Iten high in the Kenyan Highlands in 2021 which triggered in World orienteering medallist Tim Robertson a curiosity and desire to focus more on running.

The switch has gone far better than he could have dreamed and now just two years on the proud Kiwi has been rewarded with selection for the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, New South Wales.

Competing in the Silver Singlet, Tim will be up against the likes of Olympic 5000m gold medallist and defending world cross country champion Joshua Cheptegei and two-time former world cross country champ Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya. A mind-blowing prospect for the 27-year-old, who on little more then whim decided to place more emphasis on running when in the homeland of Kamworor.

“It all really started with that camp in Iten,” recalls Tim, “I was training there with a couple of Olympic marathon runners from Denmark and Holland. I got inspired by the experience and it was on the back of this then I wanted to see how far running would take me. When I got back to Europe, I run a 10km in Dresden. I always had a dream of running under 30 minutes for 10km and I achieved it there, I ticked that goal (running 29:43).”

Encouraged he has devoted more and more time to running and has continued to earn the rewards.

Born and raised in the Hutt Valley, Tim was exposed to running from the age of “five or six” when he was dragged along to club runs at Hutt Valley Harriers by his parents. His dad, John, had been a highly accomplished schoolboy middle-distance runner with a PB of 3:50 – still superior to the 3:54.79 1500m best achieved by Tim – and running quickly became a way of life.

“I guess I was running quite a bit more than a typical five or six-year-old,” says Tim. “Back then, I was racing the under tens. I would later run do a couple of races a year on the local cross country circuit and as I got older I competed at North Island Champs.”

He later developed into a promising schoolboy runner. More accomplished in cross country than on the track, he claimed top 15 finishes at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country Championships and competed at the 2012 World Schools Cross Country Championships in Malta.

However, his main passion throughout much of his time at school was orienteering. Introduced to the sport – which combines map reading and running from point to point in the quickest time – at the age of 11, he enjoyed a rapid ascension.

At the age of just 15 he made his first New Zealand team to compete at the World Junior Championships – the sport suddenly presented some huge opportunities.

“I think a big part of the excitement of orienteering was being able to travel and represent my country,” he says. “It was cool travelling to compete on the other side of the world. I also loved racing on courses which are always varied and on different terrains.”

In 2014 and 2015 he won back-to-back world junior titles and since leaving school he has spent much of time based in Europe – the heartbeat of the sport. In 2014 he headed out to live in Norway and later moved for five years to Austria where he completed an international business degree, but more recently he has relocated to the city of Norrkoping in Sweden, where he lives with his partner.

The success has continued to flow for Tim as a senior orienteer. In 2018 he was crowned World University sprint orienteering champion and bagged silver at the World Championships. Three years later he secured another World Championship podium with a bronze medal and last year claimed an orienteering sprint gold medal at the World Games in the USA.

Working in sales and distribution he has also adapted well to life in Sweden.

“It is going well,” he says. “I speak fluent Swedish, although it helps, I am speaking another Germanic language because during my time in Austria I also learned German. The winters are tough in Sweden but I’m really enjoying it.”

Running between 120-160km a week (a significant amount on the treadmill during the harsh Swedish winters) and given coaching input from Danish runner Magnus Dewett – it was on that trip to Iten with Dewett which changed his sporting path.

Putting extra focus on running paid dividends last year as he set track PBs for 1500m, 3000m and 5000m as well as over 10km and the half marathon on the road.

“It has been an exciting journey and it is fun being able to run PBs because I haven’t focused on running since I was in high school,” he recalls. “In some events my PB has come down by a minute. It is extremely motivating to run times I never previously thought possible. I once dreamed of running a sub-four-minute 1500m and now I’m only one second off running them back-to-back in a 3k. It is fun process taking the times down. I know at some stage that won’t continue to happen but as long as it keeps going, I just want to enjoy the ride.”

Based last winter for a period in New Zealand, which coincided with the New Zealand Cross Country Championships in Taupo, worked out perfectly. There Tim enjoyed an outstanding race, mixing it with the finest domestic cross country exponents and claiming a hard-earned bronze medal in the men’s senior race behind Matthew Taylor and Cam Avery.

The performance helped him win him selection for the New Zealand team for the World Cross Country Championships and he has many fond memories of his display at Spa Thermal Park.

“It was a great competition and I was extremely happy with the result, although I know I need to work on my race tactics,” he adds. “I remember with one lap to go on Playground Hill, I missed a little surge Matt and Cam put in. I come from a sport (in orienteering) where we compete solo, so I need to get more used to running with a pack of runners. But I was happy to come away with a medal against such a strong field.”

Still combining running with some specific orienteering training, Tim says his preparation for the World Cross Country Championships has gone well. Adjusting to the relatively high temperatures back at the family home in the Hutt Valley compared to the freezing Swedish winter he is relishing the prospect to competing against the world’s finest endurance athletes in Bathurst.

So, what does he hope to achieve on Saturday in what will be the biggest competition of his career?

“It is hard to say for a cross country race because you can’t predict a time like you can on the track, and I’ve also never been to a major championship (in athletics),” he admits. “It has been an exciting journey just to make the team. I feel I’ve prepared well, so I just want to stand on the start line knowing I’ve done everything that I could. I’ve read the race has 300m of climb which I think will suit me. I just hope for a bit more mud and water like I’d face in orienteering, although I’m not sure I’m going to get that in Australia in February!”

***The 2023 World Cross Country Championships take place in Bathurst, Australia on Saturday and will be screened live on Sky Sport 9 from 5.20pm (NZ time).

For timetable and results go here

For entry lists go here