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Standing on the victory podium of the World Cup for the very first time
This ski jumper born in Hakuba is set to shine on the world stage!

Yoshito Watabe

Normally handling races with indifference, Yoshito Watabe uncharacteristically struck a pose. He had just placed third and for the first time in his life won a medal in the 16th Nordic combined event at the World Cup. In addition, his brother Akito placed second, the first time Japanese siblings have stood together on the podium since the Ogiwara brothers in 1995. It is the moment in which a pair of new heroes has been born.

Watabe is from Hakuba in Nagano Prefecture, a popular area for skiing. Although many athletes became determined to compete after seeing the Nagano Olympics in 1998, “I have almost no memory of the Olympics and just began skiing when I was told to,” says Watabe with a bitter smile. His first experience jumping in elementary school resulted in a complete failure to stick the landing. Due to the fear this caused, the gap between the skiing abilities of his classmates and Watabe grew, but one day, Watabe saw an older student jumping and thought how he wanted to make cool jumps like that – and from that moment, Watabe’s abilities blossomed in a flash. Watabe achieved his first victory in the second year of junior high school at a national athletic meet, and won again the following year. In high school, as well, Watabe achieved national championship wins from his first year. In his third year, Watabe made the spectacular achievement of dominating the National Invitational Tournament, the National Athletic Meet, and the All-Japan Championship, after which he entered Waseda and joined the Waseda University Ski Team. However... “At that time I felt that if I just plunged headlong into the event, I would win. I thought that doing things at full power was strength.”

Just as Watabe’s words of reflection indicate, once in university, Watabe was unable to get the results he expected at the world tournaments he participated in. Even if he managed to stand in the top ranks of the jump competitions, his specialty, he continued to be overtaken in the cross-country matches held afterwards. “Top-class athletes know how to win. You can’t just train recklessly.” Feeling this keenly, Watabe set his mind to steady and unhurried training. Through trial and error, Watabe actively adopted what he had learned in his classes in the School of Sport Sciences into his training. He set goals each year and slowly, step by step, strove to improve himself. Even so, Watabe continued to suffer in races and, in February of this year at the World Team Championships, his team failed to achieve a medal due to Watabe’s poor cross-country race time. “That was my most difficult race ever,” says Watabe, and perhaps this experience served as a trigger; afterwards, Watabe’s results began climbing. At the beginning of the World Cup individual tournament, Watabe achieved a position easily within reach of his goal of the top 20, and by the 15th event he had achieved 4th place, a personal best. Watabe entered the 16th event feeling that it would be now or never to get on the victory podium while he was performing at his best. Finally the time had come.

Placing number one in his specialty, jumping, Watabe fought earnestly in the cross-country race in hot pursuit of other top athletes, reaching the goal line in third place. Although he was overtaken by two athletes, including his older brother, Watabe had finally seized a place on the winner’s podium. His uncharacteristic pose was because this was the moment all his training with the Ski Team had born fruit. Even so, Watabe says coolly, “Until now I didn’t know how to win and wasn’t able to stand in the top rankings. That’s the truth,”

Watabe’s dream for the future, of course, is to achieve a gold medal at the Olympics and win the World Cup combined tournament, but this peak is still far away. That is why Watabe has no choice but to continue working hard, in good times and bad. “I can feel myself growing each day and I can continue because there is something higher I can aim for. Right now, that is what is fun for me.”

Even Watabe, who specializes in ski jumping, says it is virtually impossible not to feel fear when jumping.

Cross-country skiing requires both physical and mental strength.

At a jumping training camp in summer. The Waseda University Ski Team trains thoroughly throughout the year.

Photo credit: Waseda University Ski Team

(Offered By:WASEDA WEEKLY)

Yoshito Watabe
Fourth Year, School of Sport Sciences

Originally from Nagano, Yoshito Watabe graduated from Hakuba High School. Of the many countries he has visited for tournaments, his favorite is Norway. Although he spends most of his time on days off at home, he also enjoys going on casual outings. Together with his older brother Akito, Watabe is a front runner for being selected as one of Japan’s representatives at the Sochi Olympics.