Japan’s Watabe takes advantage of top contenders’ misfires in ski jumping

Japan Nordic combined athlete Akito Watabe

For once in PyeongChang, it wasn’t all about Norway.

Norway, who leads all nations with 28 medals in PyeongChang – including a team gold and two bronzes in ski jumping events – 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 (19th place) and Schmid (22) will start the medal-deciding 10km cross-country race one minute, 52 seconds and 2:04, respectively, behind leader Akito Watabe of Japan.

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 represents the nation’s only true shot at a medal, finishing in second, just .30 points behind Watabe’s 138.9.

Watabe will have just a one-second head start over Riiber in the cross-country race.

Germany’s Eric Frenzel, who outlasted the field to defend his normal hill/10km gold last Wednesday, pitched a 132.9-point jump to put him 24 seconds back. That’ll be nothing for him, as Frenzel began the normal hill event 36 seconds back of the leader, but quickly made up the difference, leading the pack for much of the 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’ll begin the cross-country portion 2:04 back.

Three other Americans competed. Ben Berend (105.8 points) will start 2:12 behing Watabe, Ben Loomis (81.6) 3:49 back and Jasper Good (72.7) 4:25 back.

The Gundersen method of calculation is used to convert a ski jumper’s total points into their starting time for the 10km. The highest-scoring jumper goes first, with the rest of the field on a delayed scattered start based on their total points from the large hill portion of the competition.

The event concludes with the 10-kilometer cross-country race at 7:45 a.m. ET. Stream it here.