Brothers on Skis: The Watabes (JPN)
As many have noted before, familiarity is a very distinctive feature of the Nordic Combined sport. It is certainly not the biggest discipline, the number of athletes actively pursuing a career in both, ski jumping and cross-country skiing is limited while the attitude is very open, friendly and down to earth. So, the groups travelling together in the winter time, be it on the World or the Continental Cup circuit, have close ties to each other, between fellow athletes, coaches and service staff.
One thing that is definitely striking on top of this familiar atmosphere is the number of brothers competing in Nordic Combined. Once a family member is hooked, the fascination seems to spread, leading to an astonishing number of brother pairs currently competing on the highest levels of the sport. The new weekly series „Brothers on skis“ tries to explore the special situation of travelling with and competing against a brother. First up is one of most successful pairs of siblings in Nordic Combined: Akito and Yoshito Watabe from Japan.
What is the best thing about having your brother involved in the same sport/occupation as you?
Akito: The best this is that it feels like I have one more private coach. Yoshito is a very good jumper, I am able to ski faster than him on cross-country track. We can teach each other how to improve our techniques. We have almost the same height, the same body weight and obviously, grew up together and we know our respective personalities well. It’s really easier than telling something to another person.
Yoshito: I would say, brothers can share anything easier! It’s very practical when I forget something for a competition or training camp or something like that! (laughs)
Growing up in the sport together, how did you handle the sibling rivalry? Was there ever a point where one of you was really unhappy that the other one was doing better?
Yoshito: We have always handled it in a very practical way: I am me and he is he. Now and in the future. This is simple and easy for us.
Akito: He will be my rival in the near future but not yet. Until now, he was able to beat me only few times in our skiing life. Of course he is a good jumper and he beat me many times on a jumping hill. But we are doing Nordic Combined. I guess he was really unhappy sometimes but it can also be a good motivation. I’m sorry for him. He has a strong brother.
How is it to actually compete against your brother in the events? Do you even notice, is he just another competitor or do you even work better together as brothers to reach common goals (e.g. in the cross-country races)?
Akito: I’m always focussed on my own race. He is just another competitor in the cross-country races. Every athlete is the same for me when I am in competition mode. I will do my best, no matter who I am fighting against.
Yoshito: I agree. When it is competition time, we are just two competitors the very same as all of the other guys. Of course I am sometimes frustrated because recently I often lead after jumping but he passes me easily in cross-country.
What do your parents think about both of you being involved in the sport professionally?
Akito: They said to us “Ask yourself what do you want to do” I think they are happy that we are doing what we really love to do and that we’re able to do this professionally.
Yoshito: Actually, they like Nordic Combined, no matter if we do it or not. But I think it is really exciting for them to watch us both compete.
You already had the chance to share a World Cup podium in Oslo with your brother. Was this a special moment in your career?
Yoshito: For me it was not so special but for my family it was special.
Akito: Yes it was. The chance for this to happen is actually quite slim. The podium has just three steps and we got two of them in a World Cup! I guess there are only very few brothers who shared the podium in Nordic Combined history. This is very special to me. We are aiming to get on the first place and second next chance. (laughs)
HIM OR YOU?
And in true game show manner, we of course had some more funny questions which we asked each brother separately.
Who was the better student in school?
Yoshito: Of course me!
Akito: He was.
Whose jokes are funnier?
Akito: Hopefully mine are!
Yoshito: I’d say, we both not doing so well because we do often try to make jokes but they are just only sometimes funny. (laughs)
Who was more of a mama’s boy?
Akito: Definitely Yoshito!
Yoshito: When we was children, yes I have to admit, I was more of a mama's boy than him.
Who of you is more impulsive and more prone to be in a bad mood after a bad result?
Akito: I am.
Yoshito: We’re both not in a bad mood usually. After bad results, we are always close.
Who has more success with the ladies?
Akito: (laughs) Well, if I know everything about how he’s doing in that department, I’d say I am!
Yoshito: I don't know very well but I think Akito is doing better. (laughs)