The Long Distance Ski Championship

Masako Ishida: “I like rice as a carbo loader before the race”

Masako Ishida has been in the cross-country skiing elite for a decade with World Cup podiums and Top 5 results in the Olympics and World Championships. Three years ago, she was invited to Team United Bakeries and right away she showed brilliant results in long distance skiing winning La Diagonela and gaining a lot of podiums during the events. She's the only Asian skier in Visma Ski Classics series and it's very interesting to get to know the Japanese view on our sport since it's a little bit different.

Written by: Denis Kabanen

Adaption to European life

At the moment Masako is in her home town Bihoro on Hokkaido. Cold air from Okhotsk sea and moister from the Pacific Ocean brings a lot of snow here even on sea level -- it's a perfect place for skiers.

Do you have roller ski tracks or you do you roller ski on the roads? - We do both since there are special tracks in some places. You can also roller ski on the roads and that's what I do when I'm home.

What do people say when they see you training on the roads? - In the beginning they were wondering what I was doing but now they even cheer for me!

So, you have a good opportunity to train at home in the summer and winter, but most of your races are in Europe. How much time a year do you spend in Japan? - Yes besides roller skiing in the summer we can also run in the mountains but you have to be careful with bears. Traveling takes a lot of time, only half of the year I'm in Japan. I joined national team training camps in Nagano this summer. Next week I will go to Ramsau for practice on snow for three weeks.

So, to become a really strong skier do you really have to live in Europe half of the year? - I think it's so because Japan doesn't have a high level of races. If you want to fight with the top
athletes you have to go for it. Also, if you want to ski in the summer you also should travel since we don't have any glaciers and ski tunnels in Japan.

Is it mentally hard to travel to a different culture for you and other Japanese? - Yes it was difficult in the beginning: not so much rice in the food, time difference, have to speak English at least. But after a couple of seasons I could fit in the European culture and now really like the food culture. It's no stress for me anymore.

What do you prefer for carbo loading before a marathon? Pasta? Does rice work well? - A good question. I like rice for sure. Sometimes pasta is also good. But before a marathon I prefer to eat sticky rice.

What's your source of protein then? Fish, meat? - I eat both before the race but I prefer salmon. It includes good substance for endurance power.

Is your sport food different compared to your European colleagues? - No I don't think so. We use the same sport snacks and drinks.

Is traveling to Korea and China easier for you than traveling to Europe? - Travel distance is shorter, which is good. But I couldn't speak English in China. It's difficult to communicate.

Do people in Japan speak better English? - Actually I don't think they are right now. But at least there is good English practice in schools now. So, students speak much better compared to me 10 years ago.

And what about Korea? Skiing there is also not so popular. Will they have a ski marathon someday? - I've heard that there is only one cross-country ski track in Korea - Olympic Stadium. Nothing more, so the one and only marathon there will be is during the Olympics.

Is the Olympics your main goal this season? Will you race something before? - After World Cup season I will do Visma Ski Classics stages but have to focus on the Olympic Games. I still have to fight for a spot in the team, do some domestic competitions.

Fair racing distance for woman

It seems that most of the women of the World Cup skip long distance races even on roller skis. On the other side men loves it. What's the reason for that? - I'm not sure but men have 50 km races in the World Cup, World Championship and the Olympic Games. Women maximum racing distance is 30 km. So, for the men it's much more important to try marathons.

Do you feel that it's unfair to have shorter distances for the women? It's like an old fashion idea that women are weaker than men. In most sports women do the same distance. - Men are faster than us (women) but not with a big margin. I think some races have to be longer for women in the World Cup. And it's one of the reasons why I like Visma Ski Classics -- we are equal and longer distances is my strong point.

In 2006, you skied the famous Vasaloppet that was part of the World Cup - only 45 km for women and you finished 19th and Justyna Kowalczyk 13th. What was your thoughts of long distance skiing at that time? - I remember that day. It was just 45 km but it felt so long! In the end I was so hungry. I was much weaker than now for sure. I'm surprised that Justyna was only 13th place in that race.

Can Visma Ski Classics stages help you to get in better shape before the Olympics or can it spoil your shape? - If I can do one or two long distance races it would be better for me. This is really good training for 30 km classic on Olympics.

Is that your main race? - Absolutely. So far, my result is better in classic style.

Visma Ski Classics in Japan

But isn't skating in Japan much more popular than classic? I know at least 3 marathons and even Japan Vasaloppet - all of them are skate. - That's true -- all Japanese ski marathons are skate and we actually have more than ten of them. I think many people just cannot do classic technique. But I'm sure Vasaloppet should be classic.

Is cross-country skiing popular in Japan? - Cross-country skiing is not popular at all even if we have a lot of snow. Yes there are some skiers but very little. We aren't exposed in the media because you have to win to get journalist's attention.

What can long distance skiing and all cross-country skiing do to become more popular in Asia? - People have no clue how hard our sport is and how strong you should be to ski. Most find roller skiing funny.

Maybe you should find a celebrity and teach him skiing? - It would be funny. I think some youtuber should try cross-country skiing. It would be good promotion.

Still you have good cross-country skiing traditions and a famous World Championship in 2007 in Sapporo? - But still people know very little about us. One day I went to a haircutter and she was sure that women's ski jumping is a much bigger sport than cross-country skiing. We don't even have websites with fresh information about ski tracks, training tips and other useful information. I think we can also promote more how cross country skiing is good for your body and can prolong your life. Of course, we should show more for TV and newspapers. I really would like to make a Visma Ski Classics stage in Hokkaido. Maybe in Niseko since they already held one long distance ski race last season.

If we talk about a Visma Ski Classics stage in Japan, then pro skiers would come for racing points. But how can you interest regular cross-country skiers to visit this race? What are strong points of interest for European tourist in Japan (Hokkaido) in the winter? - First of all, many people are surprised how much snow we have. We have popular destinations, Niseko and Furano, but also volcano Asahidake gets tourist interest and of course Sushi and Wagyu - we love it! I also have to say that shopping in Japan is cheaper than in Europe -- you would enjoy it! Oh, and the most important is the natural hot springs where you can take a bath. We have some spa hotels around. I love to take an outside spa and some good hotel rooms are equipped with a personal outside spa. You should try it!

Maybe you can also develop the Japan long distance team? Keishin Yoshida, Lenting Akira? - This is good if we can organize it!

Does professional cross-country skiing in Japan get money from government, military or sponsors? - If you are in the national team then you can get help from government and sponsors.

Can you find sponsors to host a Visma Ski Classics stage? - This is the point. I really want to find some sponsors. For example, it could be a Japanese car company as they work worldwide. It would be smart for them to sponsor this project. We have to ask.

Double poling

What's your favorite Visma Ski Classics stages? - I love Reistadløpet. There are so many uphill's that fits me very well.

Do you prefer to start together with the men or to have women only? - If there are not so many participants then it's OK to start together. But in Vasaloppet it is very dangerous -- you can easily fall or break a ski pole. I like separate starts.

From Petter Eliassens story we know that skiers can become super strong in regular races after extra focus on double poling. Did you try to develop being better in double poling? - I think it can help for V2-technique so you can push yourself in the uphill's with a faster speed. Also, double poling sets your maximum speed in classic races. Not talking how it's important for long distance races. It's actually my weak point, but I try to improve and I'm doing a lot of double pole training. I hope my technique's getting better as well my upper body muscles.

What do you think of Britta and Katerina's double poling development? - I have to say they are extremely strong in double poling. We can learn from them and especially young athletes. I think in 5 years all women will become as strong as they are now.

Would you be as strong as they are now in double poling if you won't need to focus so much on your "legs"? - If you have a good technique then you have to use your hips and legs as well. It's not only upper body strength.

In the Olympics and World Championship you've been just a few seconds from podium positions. I wish you better luck in the coming Olympic Games and that you will come back to Visma Ski Classics circle right after. - Thanks!


Masako Ishida's profile:

* Born: November 5th, 1980 in Bihoro, Hokkaido, Japan

* Live: Bihoro / Europe

* Languages: Japanese, English

* Occupation: Cross-country skier

* Family: parents and two sisters

* Team: Team United Bakeries / JR Hokkaido Ski Team

* Training volume: 800-900 hours last year, aims for endurance ability and some high speed. Same hours this year

* Weight/height: 51 kg, 162 cm

* Results in long distance skiing: La Diagonela 2015 winner, 9x podiums since 2015

* Results in traditional skiing: Olympic Games 2010 -- 5th place in 30 km Classics, 9x Top 10 results in World Championships since 2007, two World Cup podiums

* Strengths as a skier: diagonal skiing in uphill, final climb in Tour de Ski

* Goal Visma Ski Classics 2018: one win

* Occupation in ten years: maybe coach for younger people and organizer for a cross-country race and somethings more