Japan’s Akito Watabe had seen this nightmare before. Germany’s Eric Frenzel edged him out for gold in Sochi and in the PyeongChang normal hill event a week ago.
On Tuesday, he was seeing triple.
In an entirely new level of torment, Watabe watched as the Germans swept the Nordic combined large hill/10 km event with Johannes Rydzek taking the gold, flanked by Fabian Reissle in silver and Eric Frenzel taking the bronze.
Watabe, the leader coming into the cross-country portion, led throughout. And then came the final climb.
With a kilometer to go, Watabe slipped, dropping him to the back of the seven-man lead pack and out of medal contention.
From the back of the pack, he had a perfect view as the German juggernauts charged their way to the podium.
Johannes, the reigning world champion, edged Riessle for gold by .4 seconds, coming in at 23 minutes, 52.5 seconds. Frenzel, the two-time normal hill gold medalist finishing .8 seconds back.
Johannes’ win represented Germany’s first gold medal in the event, while it was the first medal sweep ever in the individual large hill/10km.
Frenzel led the Germans to start the race, beginning 24 seconds after Watabe, followed by Rydzek 31 seconds after the leader and Riessle 34 seconds back.
From there, the onslaught was on. By the end of the first lap, Watabe’s lead had been cut to 16.6 seconds over Rydzek. It was halved again at the midpoint of the race. And by the 7.5km mark, it was dead even.
Watabe salvaged a fifth-place finish, crossing the finish line at 24:05.0 — 12.5 seconds behind Rydzek.
For once in PyeongChang, it wasn’t all about Norway.
Norway, who leads all nations with 29medals in PyeongChang – including 11 cross-country and three ski jumping medals – faltered in the ski jumping portion of the Nordic combined large hill/10 kilometer event Tuesday.
Jorgen Graabak, the reigning gold medalist in the event, greatly underperformed with a 119.5-meter jump for 110.0 points. Countryman Jan Schmid, the second-ranked Nordic combined athlete in the world also failed to meet expectations, finishing the ski jumping bit at 107.9 points. Graabak and Schmid started the medal-deciding 10km cross-country race one minute, 52 seconds and 2:04, respectively, behind leader Akito Watabe of Japan. Overall, Graabak and Schmid finished 15th and 16th, respectively.
Watabe, the silver medalist in the normal hill event, nailed a 134.0-meter jump (the fourth farthest of the competition) as the final jumper. He made up for the lacking distance with a polished style score (three 18.5 scores from the judges) for a near-perfect landing.
It wasn’t all negative for Norway, though. Jarl Magnus Riiber represented the nation’s only true shot at a medal, finishing fourth – as he did in the normal hill – just two seconds behind Frenzel for the bronze.
In the opening ski jumping porttion, Riiber finished in the two-hole, just .30 points behind Watabe’s 138.9, giving Watabe the one second head start over Riiber in the cross-country race.
Bryan Fletcher, a childhood cancer survivor appearing in his second Olympics, led the U.S. with a 120.5-meter jump worth 107.8 points. It wasn’t enough to put him in medal contention, though, as he began the cross-country portion 2:04 back before finishing 17th, 1:42.9 back of Rydzek.
Three other Americans competed: Ben Berend (39the place), Ben Loomis (40th) and Jasper Good (43rd)