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Athlete of the Week: Ryota Yamamoto (JPN)

Jan 26, 2021·Nordic Combined
© NordicFocus

When some athletes break through into the best of the best of the Nordic Combined athletes, they do it gradually over some time with debuts, first points, first Top 20, Top 10 and eventually podium results and wins. Over the years, the develop into athletes to watch out for who then, eventually, confirm this with the top results.

Ryota Yamamoto is not one of these athletes. The 23-year-old from Saitama Prefecture in Japan had his World Cup debut on home ground in Sapporo in 2017 but only became a World Cup regular in the 2019/20 season. Since then, he has competed in 34 World Cups and claimed stable points results in the Top 30 and 20, with the occasional trip to the Top Ten in Ruka and Oslo.

Notably, both hills are large hills, as Yamamoto was leaning heavily to a  strong performance in ski jumping (he finished seventh in the Best Jumper Trophy last year) but was usually not holding up too well on the cross-country track.

This year, he began to put his jumping on an even higher level: long jumps which are characteristically, stylishly clean and beautiful have him residing in the fifth spot of the Best Jumper Trophy (remarkably behind both Yoshito and Akito Watabe, attesting to the strong jumping performances of Team Japan). But even some won PCRs and jumping rounds did not help him to more than an eighth place in Ruka this season.

This all changed last weekend: Lahti, admittedly another large hill and traditionally a venue where Japanese athletes do well, as the victory of teammate Akito Watabe shows, had Yamamoto stepping out of his shell as an athlete with a performance heavily skewed towards the ski jumping side.

In the Team Sprint, he wrote history together with Akito Watabe and claimed the first-ever podium result in World Cup in this format for his nation - mostly also thanks to a gritty, strong cross-country performance in which he managed to keep his team in contention for a podium result: rank three.

Even more impressive was his performance in the following Individual Gundersen which lead, much to many viewer’s surprise to the third place for Yamamoto again. The diminutive Japanese skied his heart out and fought with teeth and claws for his maiden podium result, skiing together with World Cup leader Jarl Magnus Riiber for most of the latter part of the race and then also not giving up when he had to let him go on the last lap. Yamamoto prevailed against all odds and even kept quadruple Lahti World Champion Johannes Rydzek off his back.

For this weekend, he more than deserves the title of “Athlete of the Week” and we promise we will have him on the list for athletes to watch for the best results from now on!

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