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The A to Z of Nordic Combined: Akito to Zen

24 Jan 2018
Tokyo, Japan, January 24, 2018: Mixing ski jumping with cross country skiing, Nordic Combined has gone in search of the ultimate winter sports athlete since the first Winter Olympics in 1924. In this epic quest to blend explosive strength with endurance and tactical nous, Japan’s Akito Watabe is hoping Zen meditation will provide him with the balance to win gold in PyeongChang next month.

“It’s just always so dramatic,” says Watabe when asked what is so special about his sport. “We’re all competing at the same time and chasing each other. Our weaknesses make it even more exciting because we have to do two very different events.” Watabe won the silver medal at Sochi 2014 in the Nordic Combined Individual Normal Hill event.

“You must keep a balance between your jumping and cross country,” he added. “For jumping you must keep your mind calm and focused. Your speed during the in-run is about 90 km per hour and you have to maintain control in the air to land safely.

“I use Zen to keep my mind calm. I meditate when I need it, like before leaving the hotel for competition. It allows me to accept everything. What has happened and what will happen. It allows me let go and focus on what I have to do.” Asked how he feels at the top of the ski jump, Watabe is disarmingly honest. “Scared,” he says.

Even now?  “Yes, every jump. I can imagine crashing and can picture many bad images. It’s a battle with my mind. I just start, just push away from the bar and then I must jump.” The PyeongChang cross country course is 2.5km long, the first third being uphill, the middle section being level and the last third downhill.

Athletes complete four laps in the individual events and two laps each in the relay. Watabe fancies his chances. “It’s a really tough track with a hard, steep uphill part which is good for me because I am strong at climbs, but not so strong on flats or downhill. I am small and light so I can ski fast uphill. My cross country time is always quite fast on tracks where there is a hard climb.
“But you have to be really smart, not just go off at full speed. You must see who is chasing you and understand the time between the leading and chasing groups, and know when to break away from the pack. You have to control everything.”

NOTE: There will be three Nordic Combined events at PyeongChang 2018:

*Men’s individual Gundersen Normal Hill (109m) and 10km cross country
*Men’s individual Gundersen Large Hill (140m) and 10km cross country
*Team Gundersen featuring four-man teams, with each member jumping from the large hill and then taking part in a 4 x 5km relay.

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