Champions with a love of maps

Chalmers University of Technology

​Alva Sonesson reached a gold and Sara Hagström a silver medal in the Swedish Championships 2020. Two of Sweden’s most outstanding orienteers study at Chalmers as national sports students – at each end of the same programme. At the end of September, Alva Sonesson reached gold in the junior class and Sara Hagström silver in the senior class in the Swedish Championships in orienteering, which was held in the forests just outside Gothenburg.

“I was mentally prepared and had a plan for both the middle-distance and long-distance races,” says Alva Sonesson. “But I do not think I had any advantage from the fact that the competitions took place here. I have not been in the Gothenburg terrain much, because I have just moved here. I’m from Falköping, just like Sara.”
“Us orienteers have an interest in maps”
Alva Sonesson has followed in Sara Hagström’s footsteps from the orienteering club at home in Falköping, through larger and larger competitions and all the way to studying built environment at Chalmers.
“Sara was the big star in Falköping and she has shown the way and taken the lead in orienteering, so she is a strong role model for me in sports. But it’s a little funny that we both study at the same programme now,” says Alva Sonesson.
She has just started her first semester, while Sara Hagström is doing her last year and is more than halfway to finish her thesis in aquatic environment technology. Sara Hagström reckons that the choice for her to study built environment was quite natural.
“Us orienteers have an interest in maps and can easily interpret them. In general, I would think that many orienteers are interested in the construction side. And I notice that I kind of wake up a little when there is, for example, a geology map at a lecture – in a completely different way than if I am shown a design model,” she says with a laugh.
Tips for new elite athlete students
Both Sara Hagström and Alva Sonesson study at Chalmers within the framework of the Swedish National Sports University, which means that they can study at lower speed, get help with moving exams or in other ways adapt their studies to training and competition.
“I aim to study at 100 percent to start with. It has worked well for me this far, but we will see what happens during wintertime when I need to spend more time on training,” says Alva Sonesson. “And from what I have heard from others in the national team who are also National Sports University students at Chalmers, there is good help to get.”
Sara Hagström has also studied at full speed during the first four years, but before the World Cup in Norway in 2019, she reduced it to half speed. And there are some things she wishes she had known as a new National Sports University student.
“Do not demand too much of yourself during the first year, because it is tougher at the university than in high school. So, do not feel stressed about finishing in the same way as your friends who are not elite athletes. It’s okay to do the courses at full speed, but a tip is to wait with the exam until the summer,” she says. “Also lower the bar because it is very demanding to get the highest scores as well as investing on elite athlete level, at the same time!”
They both have a clear goal
Neither Sara Hagström nor Alva Sonesson know exactly what they want to work with in the future. But in terms of sports, they both have clear goals.
“My biggest focus is the Junior World Championships next year. It will be the last year for me to participate in that class and I really want to work hard, develop and see how far I can reach – where my limits are,” says Alva Sonesson.
Sara Hagström is also aiming for the World Championships.
“I have competed in the World Championships several times, so I am really eager to perform during the World Championships in the Czech Republic next year. I want to get a medal!”
Text: Helena Österling af Wåhlberg
Photo: Lars Rönnols
/University Release. The material in this public release comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.