By Teemu Virtanen
Jizerska 50 presented a thrilling spectacle for viewers and pro skiers alike even if many notable names were at home bedridden fighting a flu epidemic. As always, Visma Ski Classics lived up to its name and offered “classic” entertainment for the fans around the world with fierce battles, brave breakaway attempts and heroic performances. Andreas Nygaard, Team Ragde Eiendom, triumphantly returned to the fold after being sick and showed everyone that he has a true knack for winning races. Lina Korsgren, Team Ramudden, proved that her Vasaloppet victory last year wasn’t a fluke by leaving everyone eating her dust.
But one surprise was greater than anything else in that race. It was so exceptional that a new page has now been written in the Great History Book of Visma Ski Classics. Ari Luusua, Team Mäenpää, became the first Finn in history to be on the podium in our renowned pro skiing tour. It goes without saying that Finland is one of the great nations of Nordic skiing, and currently Iivo Niskanen and Krista Pärmäkoski are the country’s great hopes in the upcoming FIS World Championships in Seefeld, Austria.
But the last time a Finnish skier has truly shone in long distance skiing goes all the way back to the time of Pauli Siitonen, Vasaloppet winner, in the 70s and 80s. There are occasional great performances from some of the Finnish elite athletes in selected Worldloppet races, but nothing compares to what Ari managed to do in Jizerska 50 this Sunday.
Naturally, this success means a lot to him but even more to Finland and its long distance skiing culture. It may be that Ari’s performance will finally ignite a spark and inspire more talented skiers to step into the arena of Visma Ski Classics. Watch out Norway and Sweden as Finland is seriously entering the game!
Many of you may wonder who this guy out of nowhere really is. Well, he is certainly not an unknown player in the sport as he has got five medals, including one gold, in the Finnish Nationals, and his best World Cup result is 8th. He has occasionally finished among the top 10 pro skiers in Visma Ski Classics, this year’s Marcialonga’s 9th place being one of those performances. Ari started skiing when he about 13 years old, and he is now setting his sights on becoming a Visma Ski Classics hero. He really likes Marcialonga and Vasaloppet because they are legendary races, but his favorite one is Ylläs-Levi, which is close to his home.
Now, it’s time to give him a moment in the spotlight – here is Ari Luusua for you, the man who has already made history in long distance skiing.
1. You have performed well in standard skiing, but what makes long distance skiing so appealing to you?
“When I was young, I already used to do some long distance races, and I liked them very much. To do well in a long distance ski race, everything has to be in order. There are so many things you need to take into consideration, both small and big. Long distance skiing is a game for horses.”
2. How different is long distance skiing from standard World Cup skiing?
“In the World Cup circuit you need to have a high Vo2max level, but in long distance skiing you must have endurance and muscle strength, you need to be powerful and have the stamina to go on for hours. You can do well in both if you know how to organize your training and racing. Recovery from these long distance races takes time and you have to be extra careful when doing both. But to win in either one, you have to put your sole focus on one sport alone.”
3. How have you trained for this season?
“I’ve done a lot of double-poling exercises, and my focus has been on long workouts. For me, one way of staying shape during the season is to do regular five-hour double-poling exercises at a good pace.”
4. What is your general take on double-poling?
“If these athletes are just so powerful that double-poling is the fastest way for them to move from one place to another, no one should prevent them from doing so. We can’t stop the evolution of skiing!”
5. Describe your feeling when you crossed the finish line in Jizerska this Sunday?
“I had the race under control from the beginning, but at the end when we had so many skiers in the group, I started to feel a bit nervous. Luckily, I found a way to be right behind Nygaard, and I knew that following him would take me to the podium. My first feeling was something beyond words as I realized what I’ve done. But then I started to feel sick and vomited heavily. I gave everything I had in me to achieve this success.”
6. What does this success mean to you and your career?
“To be on the podium is an important step in my sport career, but in the grand scheme of things, like in life, it really means nothing.”
7. Do you believe that your performance will spark people’s interest in the sport in your home country?
“I really hope that my success will help, and it would be great to see that long distance skiing could reach the same level of respect and appreciation in Finland as in Norway and Sweden. I also think that long distance and World Cup skiing are two separate things and shouldn’t be compared. We need them both, and there’s room for both to thrive.”
8. Finally, tell us about your team, Team Mäenpää?
“ I used to go to their summer events, and Kim and Mats asked me to join their team. First, I only represented the team for Visma Ski Classics, but I now do all my races wearing their team suit. They have very high work ethic, and they have set high standards for the team. It’s no wonder that they have succeeded so well in business. Everything is done according to a carefully orchestrated plan, but the team is still very young and we have many prolific years ahead of us in Visma Ski Classics.”