By Teemu Virtanen
Masako Ishida, Team Koteng, has been a colorful addition to the Visma Ski Classics tour with her great personality and uplifting attitude. This season, we have not seen much of her as she has put her sole focus on the FIS World Championships in Seefeld, Austria. Her main goal is to do well in the 10 kilometer classic race on Tuesday next week and the 30 kilometer skating race on Saturday, March 2. After Seefeld, she will join the ranks of the Koteng gang and fight for the podium in Birkebeinerrennet and Reistadløpet in Norway and Ylläs-Levi in Finland.
Masako grew up in Bihoro, Hokkaido, and she got into skiing at the tender age of six. She likes the healthy food that Japan can offer, and she thinks that her country has a lot to offer to the world. Looking back to her childhood, she recalls her elementary school being really small, and the students used to do sports and other activities together in unity. Her hometown had a 2.5-kilometer ski loop, and she admits that Nordic skiing and its appreciation could be much better in her home country. There is plenty of good quality snow around providing an opportunity for some greater development in all winter sport activities, and she would love to boost the cross-country skiing culture in Japan.
Masako has competed in two Olympics, and her best result is 5th in the 30 km event in Vancouver in 2010. Her best World Cup finish was 3rd in the 30 km event in Norway in 2009. In Visma Ski Classics, she has managed to be on the podium 11 times, of which two are victories, one of them last year’s Reistadløpet.
Masako’s summer training went well, and she spent a lot of hours on roller-skis doing endurance and interval workouts. She focused on tweaking her technique and finding a smooth and easy way to go fast on skis. During the winter season, she has used ski races for getting the best possible shape for the World Championships and the rest of the season.
Masako is now in Seefeld and fighting a cold, which hopefully won’t interfere her final preparations for those main races coming up next week. She took a moment to reply to the questions sent to her, and these are her honest answers. So, ladies and gentlemen, this is Masako Ishida in her full splendor.
1. What are your personal goals for this season where we still have the World Championships and five Visma Ski Classics races left?
“I’ve got a fever after the World Cup in Cogne. Before that, I was pretty confident about my chances in Seefeld, but I’m a bit uncertain at the moment. I hope I can race at my best possible condition here in Seefeld. About Visma Ski Classics, I hope I will reach the podium in every race I’m going to do, and I really want to win Reistadløpet!”
2. How would you describe the atmosphere in Seefeld right now?
“Seefeld is always nice. There’s a lot of snow, long ski trails, and it never gets boring here. I expect to see a lot of spectators here to cheer us up when we race. I love it here - this is great!”
3. You do both standard skiing and Visma Ski Classics - how would you compare these two forms of skiing?
“This is a good question. I try to balance both if possible. I think it’s hard for me to find the best possible training method as I need to pay attention to both. In the summer, I focus more on endurance and less on intervals. Then during the winter season, I do a lot of World Cup races and spend less time on training, but the intensity is much higher. I don’t think I’m as talented as some of the all-around skiers, which means that I need to find my own way. I can’t always get the best possible results, but I keep trying!”
4. What is your favorite long distance ski race and why?
“I like Reistadløpet as its course is just uphill and it’s a hard race. I also like the fact that the army guys do the race with their army skis. That’s just so great!”
5. Tell us about your team, Team Koteng - how is it to be a Japanese skier among the Norwegians?
“They are really kind. Being in the team makes me so much better and stronger as a cross-country skier. I’ve learned so much from them. Of course, the language barrier is sometimes tough as I don’t understand the Norwegian language, and I’m not even trying to. So, they teach me English!”
6. Describe your dear rivals in Visma Ski Classics; Britta, Katerina, Kari, Astrid and Justyna.
“They are lovely rivals to me. We’ve skied together so many times; sometimes cooperating and sometimes fighting tooth and nail. I know that my double-poling isn’t as strong as theirs. So, I hope I can have a bit of lead in some of the races, and maybe my technique is better this year. I’m really looking forward to showing what I can do soon.”
7. What do you want to achieve in your career and in your life?
“I think Japan has a wonderful nature, and it has great potential to become a famous cross-country skiing country. I would like to do my best and promote my country so that we’ll get more visitors who can enjoy our offering. I really would like to see a Visma Ski Classics event in Japan! About the other stuff, I’d like to have a family and a normal life like anyone else.”
8. Finally, who is your personal idol, a person who has earned your respect?
“I don’t actually have an idol. But the first time I raced in the 30 kilometer World Cup race in Oslo, I lost about ten minutes. I was really impressed by the world’s top skiers and their performance. I used to follow Valentyna Shevchenko and admire her performance in the latter part of her career when she was already semi-retired. She skied so fast while I was struggling and my heart rate was about 175, which made me realize that I needed to train much harder. It was a wake-up call for a 21-year old young skier.”