02 March, 2014

One of the most heartwarming sports events ever

I've gone to a freestyle ski moguls competition for the first time in my life at Inawashiro in Fukushima prefecture, where is northern district of Japan and it is well known as a catastrophically damaged prefecture that a massive earthquake and a tsunami have hit in the year of 2011. In fact, this was the very first time for me to visit Fukushima at the same time.

I have known the news saying that this competition was about to happen a few days before and then soon after that, I have bought train tickets and an entry ticket for the competition. It was not too far from my home but has taken more than 2 hours or so in total. It is always fun to get on Shinkansen and additionally, I needed to get on a local train to the Inawashiro station, where is the nearest station from the venue. It was a bit far from the station to the venue therefore there were some free shuttle buses running for fans visiting the skiing site, and obviously this was a really good service for anybody. And you'll never loose your ways to get your destination.

When I arrived at the venue, a preliminary round has already started. However unfortunately, the weather of the day was not necessarily fine. Rather it was enough cloudy at the top of the staring gates and it seemed to me it was slightly relayed because of this.

The crowds were not too many not too few, moderately excited. I used to watch moguls through only on TV and then my first impression about the live competition was sort of plain and quiet. Probably because when you watch these on TV, generally cameras follow the skiers with an appropriate close-up and you might see for example, how difficult the course is, how quickly the skiers go down, how high and far they make airs at the two sections... Meanwhile, watching this live means that you'll see the performances at one fixed position and it seems just two people passing you by quickly. And that's a gap for me. After making sure my first impression, I have started to photograph because not to mention, it is allowed to do.

Before showing some photos, I have been impressed by the organiser. When I have entered the venue, I have got some handouts from them. A free programme, a start list, a clear file and something were included. For me this was a souvenir already. Compared with for instance the AEON Cup of rhythmic gymnastics, you can't get these things free of charge. You definitely have to pay a ridiculous amount money for a programme about 2,000 yens or something. Therefore the souvenir here Inawashiro was really touching and surprising. And the shuttle buses earlier were organised by them too. Brilliant.

At the beginning of the competition, I have taken photos like above. It's literally a stopped motion. However I have noticed that this was too boring to carry on as its photographic representation tended to be exactly the same. And I could not help changing my idea and way of photograph.
The competition goes on. The preliminary round was individual moguls and one of two courses was used.

As you can see, I have converted to slow shutter. All these were during tricks called "air". It happens twice on the course. But, practically the photographic chance was just once because the first air is generally too far from your position.
As it is free style "ski" the thing is "turns "not only the air and speed. As the scoring system indicates, turn points account for 50% of the total score and 25% for each air and time. So, it should have been indispensable to shoot skiers doing turns but again, it was too far to capture and photographic results were exactly the same and boring. That's why I was keep going with slow shutter following airs and trying to find out some interesting moments.

There was an intermission between the preliminary round and the finals. And then I went lunch. The organiser have provided some food with spectators with humble prices. And people were really lovely and welcoming the visitors. Probably this attributes to their wish to recover from the aftermaths of the earthquake and the tsunami and of course some bad rumored influences from the presence of Fukushima nuclear reactors. But I was sure that I fell in the atmosphere of Inawashiro and local people, just fascinated by them.

The finals have taken place dual moguls, which is two skiers coming down each course at once.

One mistake that I have made was my shoes choice. I have got just casual trainers and these were completely useless on the snow. Because its soles are quite thin and it was too hard to keep standing on the snow. Having brought one pair of extra socks, I have worn doubled but that was absolutely inadequate.
I was sure that my photographic representation for this particular opportunity was not going wrong. Hope viewers can feel the dynamism and velocity of each skier. On the other hand, this makes thing difficult to recognise who they are.

The competition comes to the end. Finally the awarding ceremony introducing top three skiers of the day. I was quite happy to see two Japanese (both male and female) skiers, Shou Endo and Junko Hoshino, and a Russian female skier, Elena Muratova were on the podium. The female Japanese skier Junko, is literally from Inawashiro and she belongs to the hotel located bottom of the venue. And as for the Russian girl Elena, it was the very first podium in her career and she looked really happy with her result.

In addition to the organiser and this competition itself, I was absolutely fascinated by the skiers. Because as you can imagine, the distance between spectators and skiers are very close. So, lucky people have managed to get some autographs fortunately. And actually it was a sort of evidence that the fans were nice in their attitudes. Hanna Kearny who is from the US the champion of this Inawashiro series has mentioned at her winner's interview saying "I love to perform here in Inawashiro because only you are the fans that start watching the competition from the top of the qualification round! This never happens in other competitions!" This was literally lovely to listen to her comments.

After the ceremony, we have got back to the hotel in order to watch a press conference. Again, the distance was that much close along with a homy atmosphere thanks to the organiser, and the skiers were always casual as well. It never happens in other sports. At the press conference, it was a bit casual. Some skiers were bringing some beer and drinking it on the desk before the press conference. And at a Q&A session, I was likely to question something because Japanese press people couldn't speak English so they were not capable of asking some question for foreign skiers. And automatically questions went to the two Japanese and others seemed to me a bit bored.
Unfortunately I haven't managed to questioned them but if there is a chance to do this next time, I will definitely do that. It should be fun to get involved in and make the most of the closed distance. I'm sure that skiers respond without any sort of hesitation.Because actually I have a chat with some skiiers including Hanna Kearny, Mikael Kingsbury who are the winners of the day.