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Watabe nabs silver in Nordic combined normal hill event

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Akito Watabe captured the silver medal in the Nordic combined men’s normal hill event on Wednesday with a strong effort in the 10-km cross country race.

Watabe, who was second after the jump portion of the event, crossed the finish line just six seconds behind gold medalist Eric Frenzel of Germany.

Watabe’s compatriot, Taihei Kato, came in fourth, some 30 seconds behind the leader.

Watabe and Frenzel skied together on the cross country course for most of the race until Frenzel pulled away in the final 250 meters to win.

“Of course, I was aiming for the gold, but I just lacked the strength in the end,” Watabe said. “That being said, I’m satisfied. I did feel some pressure because this was my first time pushing myself for a medal, but I’m glad I could perform up to my best.”

For Japan, Watabe’s silver was its first medal in a Nordic combined event since Takanori Kono took home the silver at the 1994 Lillehammer Games.

Kato leaped exactly 100 meters in his jump at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center and was in fourth place at the halfway mark.

Watabe, who hails from Nagano Prefecture, soared 100.5 meters in his jump.

The 25-year-old made no secret of his ambition heading into the final part of the competition.

“I want to win a medal,” he stated. “Of course I would like to win the gold. There are chances.”

Watabe predicted the warm weather shouldn’t be a factor. And it wasn’t.

“It’s hot today, but it’s not an obstacle and I really think I can win the gold,” he noted.

Frenzel singled out Watabe as a key rival in the race to become Olympic champion after the jump.

“I will compete with Watabe and the others,” he commented. “It will be hard to catch us.”