2009-2010 Nations Cup Ranking: 18th (353 pts)
2010-2011 Nations Cup Ranking: 16th (549 pts)
Men: 15th (156 pts)
Women: 12th (393 pts)
2011/2012 World Cup Team
What You May Have Missed Last Season
The Japanese lacked much individual success to cheer about, but they put together two surprisingly effective 4-by relay teams.
The Japanese women combined for a pretty competitive relay team in La Clusaz, France. The two women who have pushed Japan into World Cup notice over the last couple of seasons (Masako Ishida and Madoka Natsumi) led off, and built a lead for two younger teammates who managed to hold on for fifth spot, ahead of Poland, two Russian and two French teams.
The men picked an even better spot to make their stand, as the extremely inexperienced group pulled off a 6th place finish during the 4×10 k relay at World Championships in Oslo.
The Japanese skiers were led out by the completely unknown Kouhei Shimizu, who has just two career World Cup starts, but somehow hung tough with the lead pack, inspiring the rest of the team (Keishin Yoshida, Masya Kimura, Nobu Naruse) onto what was easily the best Japanese performance of the year. Check out this cool split graph of the relay race to see just how impressive the Japanese were.
Oh, and just in case you think that FasterSkier is under-selling the achievement of the young Japanese men, they have a grand total of 62 career World Cup starts combined. For comparison, the Russian team that they edged out for 6th has over 170 trips to a World Cup start line between them.
After the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan last season, Kikkan Randall and several other World Cup skiers banded together to show support for their World Cup competitors, who missed the World Cup Finals due to the disaster.
What You Need To Know for This Season
The Japanese are going for a significantly reduced A-Team this season – only Masako Ishida has been given the highest status, which is rather surprising.
The biggest surprise is that according to the Ski Association of Japan website, Ishida’s long-time team mate Madoka Natsumi is no longer on the squad at all. The 31 year-old who earned a World Cup bronze medal in Trondheim, Norway, in 2009 has been a mainstay for years, and was a consistent top 30 skier.
Additionally, only two men have been granted B-Team status, as just aging sprint specialist Yuichi Onda and young-gun Keishin Yoshida have been named to the team. Yoshida skis for the Cold Weather Winter Training Unit, which sounds pretty awesome.
While not on the World Cup front, the Japanese also showed up at SuperTour Finals in Sun Valley, Idaho this past spring, where Yuma Yoshida surprised many to finish third in the 50 k Classic at U.S. National Distance Championships.
Who You Should Watch
Keishin Yoshida is rapidly becoming the real deal. The 24 year old bagged two wooden medals at the Under-23 World Championships in 2010, both in distance races. Last year was his first on the World Cup, where he brought home 20 World Cup points, including an impressive stretch of three top 30 results before abandoning the Tour de Ski.
Oh, and you can critique his classic technique here – but it’s pretty good.