With only one week to go to the season start, who better to talk to about the upcoming championship winter than reigning Viessman FIS Nordic Combined World Cup winner Akito Watabe? He speaks about his tough journey to glory last winter, his wish for a slightly less eventful World Cup start for him personally (compared to last year) and how Germany’s Eric Frenzel put him back on the path to new goals.
How did you spend the time since the Summer Grand Prix?
Akito Watabe: I took a short holiday after I came back home from Grand Prix. I had a good time with wife and recharged my batteries. We enjoyed rare time together. After that, I was going to a training camp in Europe with the team for four weeks. I am quite satisfied with how the training has been going for the upcoming season.
Is it any different going into a season as the reigning World Cup winner? Does it add to the pressure or are you rather more relaxed because you achieved such a big goal?
Watabe: I haven’t felt any pressure. I'm quite relaxed at the moment. I definitely gained a lot of self-confidence from having achieved one big goal of mine. But I don’t only feel confident, I am also really motivated to tackle the next challenges.
My visit to Eric Frenzel in the summer actually impacted me quite a bit. One day, we were talking about our careers. He said that he “only” hasn’t won Individual large hill gold in the Olympics. This is one of his biggest motivations.
His words kind of called me back to reality, after all the joy I had about winning the overall last season. I realised that there are still lots of things I can achieve. I felt a bit like the frog in the well. It knows nothing of the great ocean. (laughs) I will try hard to carve my name in history of this sport as much as possible.
That sounds like quite a goal there. What can we expect from Akito Watabe this winter?
Watabe: Good jumps, good races, and smiles on the podium! (laughs)
Always a difficult question to answer before the season start but who of the other athletes do you think will be the main ones to beat this season?
Watabe: That’s right, it’s quite a difficult thing to make predictions about. If I have to say something, I think the Germans should be strong as usual. Ilkka Herola seemed very good in the Summer Grand Prix and Austrians will benefit from extra power due to the home championships motivation. I haven’t seen the Norwegians this summer, but I could see they also had a good preparation from their Social Media channels.
It’s hard to pick THE big favourite from this group. But whoever it is in the end, there is no easy way. I’m going to focus on myself, my way and try do my best.
You had a rough start in Ruka last year when you had to compete hurting from a rib fracture suffered in a training accident and then you also had a crash during one of the races that almost cost you the Ruka Tour win. I guess you are hoping for a more quiet World Cup opening weekend this year?
Watabe: Yes, I’m hoping for that! (laughs) And during the season too. Last season was hardest one ever in my career. I sustained rib fracture two times, once in Ruka and once in Hakuba. It was very tough to keeping my shape on the top level. I learned a lot from those injuries but it’s definitely better if nothing like that happens.
The initial tour moved to Lillehammer this year with the Mass Start making its World Cup comeback after many years. Are you looking forward to the event?
Watabe: Yes, I’m excited that the Mass Start is back on schedule. I’m looking forward to race in chaos again! (laughs) It should be fun to watch it too. Sometimes, we need to change things up a bit to to make the sport more interesting.