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Mariya Sizova meets AWG mascot Ezomon at the Obihiro Forest Speed Skating Oval.
First impressions of Japan - by Kazakh speed skater Mariya Sizova

24 Feb 2017
Sapporo, Japan, February 24, 2017: Life in Japan has been a real eye-opener for many of the first-time visitors to the country for the 8th Asian Winter Games. Take, for example, Mariya Sizova, a 21-year-old member of the Kazakhstan women’s speed skating team. After completing her commitments at the Obihiro Forest Speed Skating Oval, Mariya joined the spectators in the stands to soak up the atmosphere.

“This is my first Asian Winter Games and my first visit to Japan,” she said. “I like it. It is a good experience for me. “I have enjoyed the competition, even though my races did not go too well.” Talking about Japan, Mariya said she was looking forward to seeing Sapporo after being based in Obihiro, where she has been so impressed with certain aspects of Japanese life.

“I like this country,” she says. “I was thinking it would be like an Asian country but I did not think the people here would be so friendly. “Everything here is small, little and cute. The old people are so cute and kind because they say ‘hello’ and wave their hands. In Kazakhstan it is not like this. I think they are angry. It is not normal to see this kind of behaviour in Kazakhstan.” 

Mariya, who competed in the Winter Universiade in Almaty before coming to Japan, says she has enjoyed the weather – nowhere near as severe as her home country Kazakhstan – the natural beauty of Hokkaido such as the forests and also the skating rink.

“Everything is simple,” she adds. “It is very comfortable for the athletes. The opening ceremony was cool but unfortunately I could not go because it was so many kilometres away and I was racing the next day.” Mariya, whose hometown is Chromtay, took up speed skating at the age of 10.

“One day a sports coach came to my school and asked if anyone wanted to have training in speed skating. I wanted to try, and the first training camp was at Medeu,” she said, referring to the vast, high-altitude open arena halfway up a mountain side in Almaty.

Now she loves it, and has competed in international events in Canada, USA, Norway, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belarus and Russia, describing speed skating as “like doing all sports – running, cycling, jumping and in training in the gym”. She will finish her studies this year and all the while try to qualify for the next Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Korea, in February 2018.

“I have been training hard this year because of the Winter Universide and the Asian Winter Games, and I have not been home since January 1. I miss my mom and I miss my cat,” she says.
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