Oriol Cardona was proclaimed world champion of skimo (ski mountaineering) in the sprint category last week in Boí Taüll (Lleida). The World Cup ended this Sunday with the mixed relay (he finished fifth) and he attends EL PAÍS from his home in Banyoles. Until Thursday he will not train again. What do you do to rest? “Like croissants,” he replies with a laugh. It is something that cannot be done in the competition season. Thus he celebrates the gold medal achieved at home. Cardona, 28 years old, was already proclaimed European sprint champion last year. In the world ranking, he is currently sixth and is one of Spain’s assets for the 2026 Winter Games, in which skimo will debut as an Olympic discipline and for which the classification criteria are still unknown.
Graduated in Physical Activity and Sports Sciences, he has a master’s degree in altitude training. He started with alpine skiing – he left it at the age of 13 – and with athletics, which he practiced until he was 17. “I didn’t like the track very much, he did cross-country [campo a través] and I also tried pole vaulting”, he says. He gave up both when he finished high school and moved to France to study for a degree. “In order to compare sport with studies I had to go abroad. Here you could do online courses, but there weren’t many careers back then [hace algo más de 10 años] to choose from. It was a little different than now.”
So he packed his bags. He left the classrooms of the University of Perpignan only to go to the slopes of Font Romeu, where he got hooked on ski mountaineering and where he still has his permanent training headquarters at the modernization center. Cardona never thought that skimo would become Olympic. “The thing is that at that time I was small, I didn’t know what he was doing, he was doing what I liked.” In fact, in addition to the master’s degree of two years of training at altitude, he took the opportunity to get his license to drive trucks. “Because I really like the job of a firefighter. And one of the requirements to enter is that. At that time I had in mind, well actually I still have in mind, ending up working as a firefighter. And since driving trucks was something that was needed for that, I got rid of it.”
His other passion, that of running, never left her completely aside. In fact, after the winter season was over, she dedicated herself to ultra trail -mountain races- in summer. Discipline, as he says, wears a lot. “Doing both seasons, winter and summer, is now unfeasible,” he says. And more with the 2026 Games three years away. His specialty, the sprint, is a test that lasts around three minutes, with a maximum of 70 meters of unevenness. The ascent is done in sections: one with the skis on the feet and another, running with the skis on the back. The descent is made by a traced circuit. Cardona says that it is very spectacular on a visual level and that, precisely for this reason, it was included in the Winter Games.
“The trail competitions that we do are usually 3 to 4 hours of racing. Just starting there, the difference with the sprint is great, because my tests are three minutes, 15 in total because we do four rounds until we reach the final. On a physiological level I will need a very different preparation in winter: with shorter and more explosive series. Muscularly, in addition, the impact that the trail leaves you is much harder, especially on the descent and it takes you a long time to recover ”, he analyzes. For these reasons, Cardona -a scholarship holder with one of the new Olympic scholarships from the Higher Sports Council, Team España Élite- will focus solely on skimo. He will only do some trail running that will serve as a base for preparation for the winter.
He will do it with the baggage of years and years of alpine skiing, a privileged physique and a long time training alone. Hence, the master’s degree that he took in France helped him in his beginnings. “I learned a lot because in the end I dedicate myself to giving up and of course and I chose to specialize in altitude training because also to get to know myself better, to get to know my body better and to know what I do and why I do it. I trained alone for years and that was trial-error, trial-error. He gave me a very good base to dedicate myself to this sport. I know what I have to do, why I have to do it and what works for me”.
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