Four-time Olympic medallist Watabe Akito: "I know the mountain better than anyone"

The Japanese nordic combined star claimed two more medals at Beijing 2022, his fifth Olympic Winter Games. He tells Olympics.com about missing his son, and "the true beauty of sport".

By Olympics.com
Picture by Getty Images 2022

"I like to think I know the mountain better than anyone," says Japan's Watabe Akito, almost mystically.

And who could argue with the legendary nordic combined competitor in his fifth Olympic Winter Games at Beijing 2022, where he claimed medals for the third Games in succession.

In Beijing, the 33-year-old won multiple Olympic medals for the first time - bronze in the individual large hill and bronze in the team event to add to the normal hill silvers he won at Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018.

But it wasn't the gold he so badly wanted, the summit he so badly craved.

"In my heart I still want to see the summit, obviously, and I tried to get to the top of the mountain from a number of routes, going round and round.

"It's a beautiful mountain and I’ve seen it from various angles. I like to think I know the mountain better than anyone."

Watabe Akito: "The true beauty of sport"

Watabe was just six-tenths of a second away from landing the gold he craved in Tuesday's large hill/10km individual event.

He led going into the stadium complex, but was passed by Norway's Joergen Graabak and Jens Luraas Oftebro inside the last 200 metres and had to settle for bronze.

Despite his obvious disappointment, he believes that competition is more than just winning medals.

"I’m not really happy about the performance, but it was good that I won a medal for the third consecutive Games," he continues to Olympics.com.

"Of course it’s disappointing I couldn’t win a gold medal but I think I helped contribute to an exciting race. If the people who are watching it are moved by it, medal or no medal, that’s the true beauty of sport. And I’m glad I was able to realise this."

"It's really big for me because this season was so hard for me with no podium in the World Cup so far. I couldn't trust myself in this race, but I tried my best and it's good to have this medal today. I'm proud of it."

Watabe Akito (middle, #5) ends up taking large hill/10km bronze behind gold medallist Joergen Graabak (#12) and Jens Luraas Oftebro (L)
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

Team bronze delights Watabe Akito

The view from the Olympic summit might be the one he was aiming for, but the one from the Olympic podium isn't bad either, and he got to enjoy it in the Team Gundersen Large Hill/4x5km event too.

It was Japan's first team medal in Nordic combined at the Olympic Games since Lillehammer 1994.

"It's really amazing. It's not only my achievement," Watabe said after the race.

"We did a really good job, and especially Yamamoto Ryota who had a really great ski at the end."

"We were working hard in the last four years and we tried to get on the podium. So it was hard work for our team and we are really happy to make it."

Watabe Akito to climb the Olympic mountain once more at Milano-Cortina 2026?

So what does the Olympics mean to this decorated five-time Olympian?

"The Olympics, to me is… where I have an opportunity to show how I live, what I’m about."

And will we see what he's all about in four years in Italy at a sixth Olympic summit ascent?

Beijing is his fifth Olympics, but it's also his first as a father.

He said, "I just want to go home and play with my son. The last two years I haven’t seen much of him because of COVID so I want to go home and spend time with him.

"I want to spend time with my family first and then I'll think about it. The Games just finished.”

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