Superb jumping, tactical acumen and sheer nerve enabled Japan’s Akito Watabe to earn his first individual victory of the season at the International Ski Federation (FIS) Nordic Combined World Cup in the Finnish city Lahti.
Watabe thus drew level on 19 career World Cup wins with legendary fellow countryman Kenji Ogiwara, who won Olympic relay gold at the Albertville 1992 and Lillehammer 1994 Winter Olympic Games.
Himself a double Olympic silver medallist, Watabe finished 10.8sec clear of Norway’s Jarl Magnus Riiber after covering the second half of the concluding 10 kilometres cross-country on his own.
After producing the second-best jump of the day into a prevailing headwind - 129.5 metres earning him 132.1 points - Watabe had begun the cross-country just a second behind his young compatriot Ryota Yamamoto, who jumped 126m to earn 132.3 points.
Although Riiber jumped the furthest, clearing 130m, his points total of 125.4 meant he started the race in third with a 28-second delay.
Smart racing by @wtbakt and no chance for #JarlRiiber today. A well-deserved victory for the Japanese and teammate #RyotaYamamoto is rewarded for a courageous race with his maiden podium! Thank you, @LahtiSkiGames! What a weekend! #fisnoco #nordiccombined pic.twitter.com/6qQzYtvYIc— FIS Nordic Combined (@fisnoco) January 24, 2021
Watabe and Yamamoto advanced together to the halfway point of the race until Riiber managed to close the gap.
No sooner had he done so, however, than Watabe attacked again, unanswerably, holding his lead to the end.
Riiber finished second, with Yamamoto maintaining a place on the podium as he held off the fast-finishing German Johannes Rydzek.
Germans Fabian Rießle finished fifth and Vinzenz Geiger skied from position 19 to six, while Jørgen Graabak of Norway improved from 15th to seventh and compatriot Jens Lurås Oftebro from 17th to eighth.
Riiber remains the overall FIS Nordic Combined World Cup leader, 229 points ahead of Geiger, and Watabe is up to fourth in the standings.