“I proved that the ‘kind Japanese’ can also be a champion!”

Though bragging is certainly not in his nature, World Cup winner Akito Watabe looked back on the season that made him a super star in the second spring TUESDAY TALK of the season 2018/19.

You had an amazing season in which you could finally get rid of your “second/fourth place syndrome”. How do you feel about the winter 2017/18 with a couple of weeks distance?

Akito Watabe: Many people call me “king” or “champ” or something along these lines and it does not feel bad. But I am not an aggressive person. And if you look at the racing times and my performances in the cross-country parts as well, that was why I had a lot of second/fourth places so far. It is my personality and it is not easy to change. But this season, I proved that the "kind Japanese" can also be a champion.

After your victory, you posted a “rare” picture of the season finals a couple of years ago together with Eric Frenzel and Jason Lamy Chappuis. How does it feel to see you name up next to these two legends of the sport in the World Cup winner list?

Watabe: It really is an honour to see my name up next to them. I think they are the best athletes in history of this sport. It’s not only about results but I have a lot of  respect for their personalities, behaviour and expressions, as well as the strong performances in competition. They are great persons and absolutely worthy to be champions. 

Of course they don’t have same personality, as I said above but I have gotten a lot of inspiration from both of them. They were always racing like a champion. I have also tried to do that as well. In the end, I needed a quite long time to be a champion but I'm proud of my way to be one.

Do you have a favourite moment from the past winter?

Watabe: Oh, that’s hard. All the moments were great but I can say the second day in Klingenthal was the best moment in the past winter. Especially the moment just before I crossed the finish line was really impressive. All my efforts for the World Cup overall were rewarded in that moment.

As winner of the Ruka Tour, the Nordic Combined TRIPLE, the King’s Cup at Holmenkollen, the Schwarzwaldpokal in Schonach and the “Athlete of the Year” at the Nordic Combined Awards, the only thing missing this season was an Olympic gold medal (while silver certainly is a good consolation). Is this defeat something you can live with or did it hurt a bit, especially right afterwards?

Watabe: To win Olympic gold was one of my goals in this season and my wish got bigger and bigger when the day came. But then I wasn’t able to do it and I have to admit, it felt like the season was over. But all the World Cup races after the Olympics gave me my confidence back. The overall title is something I can be so proud of. I will try to get a gold again in 2022. (laughs)

How have you spent the first weeks after your big World Cup overall victory? 

Watabe: I have visited many places together with my olympic medal and the crystal globe. I was on TV shows, receptions, ceremonies and so on, so that were quite busy weeks and it still continues. But I’m enjoying these days. I’m happy that people have a smile when they see my trophies. 

The preliminary calendars for the next season were just release. While your hometown of Hakuba did not make it on the calendar for the next winter, the World Cup will return to Sapporo for one Japanese weekend. Which other stops are you especially looking forward to?

Watabe: I have to say, I’m sad to hear about Hakuba. I would really like to have an Asian series in the Nordic Combined World Cup with two weekends in my home country. I wish it would be held someday...

On the bright side, I’m looking forward to race in the Seefeld World Championships. It’s a big motivation for me to get my first individual World Championship gold. To have the TRIPLE in Chaux-Neuve will be interesting as well. I will of course try to take my second overall victory of TRIPLE.