PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – Germany delivered a superb display of cross-country skiing to glide to victory in the men’s Olympic team event on Thursday and complete a clean sweep of gold medals in the Nordic combined events at the Pyeongchang Games.
Norway overcame a poor performance in the ski jumping section to take the silver medal, 52.7 seconds behind the Germans, and Austria claimed the bronze.
Japan missed out on its second Nordic combined medal here, finishing fourth.
The Japanese team, comprised of normal hill silver medalist Akito Watabe, his brother Yoshito Watabe, Hideaki Nagai and Go Yamamoto crossed the line 2 minutes, 8.8 seconds behind the Germans.
Defending champion Norway, which passed Japan early in the cross-country race to book a top-three finish at worst, skied away from Austria late in the final leg to claim the runner-up spot.
Austria finished third, just over a minute ahead of Japan.
Japan had pinned its hopes on overall World Cup leader Akito Watabe, but the anchor got the tap from Yamamoto almost a minute behind Norway.
Watabe tried to take the blame off Yamamoto, who was in tears following the race.
“What can you do?” Watabe said. “Yamamoto really took it personally and was crying after the race, but in the end, I don’t think it would have made much of a difference who skied that leg.
“This is how good we are at this point in time.”
When Nagai made the second exchange to Yamamoto, Japan was only five seconds out of third and six behind Austria, then in second. But Austria’s Bernhard Gruber and Norway’s Jarl Magnus Riiber pounced, driving up the pace to leave Yamamoto heaving in the snow.
Yamamoto said he was marked by the Norwegians and Austrians, and could not counter.
“Norway and Austria were flying from the start and I just couldn’t keep up,” the 23-year-old first-time Olympian said. “I wanted to hand things over to Akito while we were close to the others, but I couldn’t. Bottom line is I wasn’t good enough.
“I had to overexert from the beginning, was skiing at a pace I’d never experienced before. They were out to get me, their plan all along was to try to pull away against me — and it worked.
“I feel terrible because I ruined everything. We were coming along well as a team and in a position to go for a medal.”
Japan coach Takanori Kono felt his team still had every shot at the podium despite being third after the jumping phase. Japan had said it wanted to top the jumping portion to make up for a lack of speed and stamina on the cross-country course.
“I don’t think our medal chances were at zero. I thought we had a chance,” Kono said. “Akito is faster than (Austrian anchor) Mario Seidl so even if he was around 10 seconds behind, he could overtake Seidl.
“But if he’s behind by a minute, then it’s going to be difficult.”
Earlier in the day, Japan’s four jumpers scored 455.3 points to leave the team with a 19-second, cross-country deficit behind Austria.
Germany scored 464.7 points and started just six seconds behind the front-running team, a gap it quickly closed before skiing into the distance in the 4×5-km cross-country relay.
Following the team ski jump, the cross-country started as a four-way fight for medals between leaders Austria, Germany, Japan and Norway.
Norway had a poor showing in the ski jumping and started the cross-country skiing 27 seconds after leaders Austria.
The Austrian lead was short-lived, however, with Vinzenz Geiger of Germany taking the lead and building up a gap of over 12 seconds to the chasing pack at the first exchange.
Fabian Riessle, one of three surviving members from the silver medal-winning team in Sochi four years ago, powered away on the second leg, increasing the German lead to 42 over his two laps of the course.
By the time Johannes Rydzek got the last leg underway the lead was up to a minute, and the real battle was for silver and bronze between Austria and Norway.
Rydzek glided over the line to take the gold, holding a German flag aloft, and Norway’s Joergen Grabbak saw off the challenge of Austria’s Mario Seidl to take silver.
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