Who is Akito Watabe?
Akito Watabe is a Nordic combined athlete from Japan who has competed at three Olympic Games, winning a silver medal on the normal hill in 2014.
Nordic combined beginnings
Watabe was born May 26, 1988 in Nagano, Japan – the city would host the Olympic Games 10 years later. The ski jumping venue at the Nagano Games was within walking distance to his home, and it inspired Watabe to take up the sport.
He had a crash at age 12 which left him with a broken wrist, and after a two-month break, came back as a stronger cross-country skier. Watabe and younger brother Yoshito found Nordic combined (a blend of ski jumping and cross-country skiing) soon after.
His coach is Takanori Kono, the only other man who has won an individual Nordic combined medal aside from Watabe. He won the silver medal on the normal hill (then called the individual) in 1994.
Major competitions/ medals
Watabe has competed at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 Olympics. In 2006, he finished 19th on the large hill (then called the sprint), his only event. In 2010, he competed in all three Nordic combined events, placing ninth in the large hill, 21st on the normal hill, and sixth in the team event.
At the 2014 Olympics, Watabe earned his first medal: a silver in the normal hill. He also finished sixth on the large hill and fifth in the team event.
He finished third on the 2016-17 overall World Cup standings.
Watabe has competed at six world championships. Most recently, at Worlds in 2017, he won a silver on the large hill and a bronze in the non-Olympic team sprint event. He also owns a team sprint gold from 2009.
In December, Watabe revealed that he won the season opening World Cup stop in Ruka with a fractured rib. He crashed on a downhill section of a training area and hit an ice block with his chest a few days before competition. An initial X-ray in Finland did not show the crack, but it was recently discovered.
He won Ruka nontheless, and shared a photo on twitter saying, “Don’t worry, it’s already four weeks old now. Please rest assured that the recovery is going well.”
Watabe formerly called his results “fourth place syndrome” after so often missing the podium. Since his silver medal win from the Sochi Olympics, he has finished inside the top-three among the World Cup overall standings four times.
Watabe and younger brother Yoshito were two athletes on the four-man team that won bronze in the team sprint at the world championships in 2017. Look for the brothers to be leaders on the Japanese team, likely preventing German athletes from sweeping the medals entirely.
“[Akito] is my rival, but also a teammate. I want to catch up to him because there is still a huge gap in our skills.” – younger brother and world championship teammate, Yoshito Watabe, told a Japanese newspaper before the Sochi Games
Watabe has competed in three Olympic Games – 2006, 2010, and 2014 – and owns one silver medal on the normal hill from 2014.
Outside of training
Watabe enjoys skiing and mountain biking in his spare time.
His wife, Yurie Watabe, is a Japanese freestyle skier who specializes in halfpipe. She could make her Olympic debut on PyeongChang. It might be difficult for the couple to watch each other in PyeongChang, though: her event is scheduled for the morning of February 20, while the Nordic combined large hill is scheduled for that afternoon and evening.