By Silke Tegethof, OSLO, March 11, 2017: Japanese superstar Akito Watabe is the first athlete to beat the German top stars in an individual event this winter and with this victory, the Lahti2017 silver medallist claimed his ninth World Cup victory and third triumph in Oslo. As at the past two times, he received the coveted King’s Cup out of King Harald of Norway’s hands.
Young Austrian Franz-Josef Rehrl clinched his first-ever jumping win in a competition round with a beautiful effort of 131 metres. A total of 119.9 points gave Rehrl a 3-second lead on teammate Mario Seidl, who continued his series of great jumping performances. 128.5 metres put him in the second position for the race. Veteran Björn Kircheisen impressed with 126 metres and the third intermediate position. After great World Championships, the 33-year-old seems to continue with strong results. He started his race 12 seconds after the intermediate leader Rehrl.
Behind the top three, the field’s strong jumpers took up the Top Ten positions. Maxime Laheurte, Willi Denifl, Akito Watabe, Francois Braud and Eero Hirvonen started their race between 14 and 46 seconds behind Rehrl.
The duel for the overall World Cup lead promised to be a tight one as well today. Eric Frenzel fared better on the jumping hill and showed 123 metres (109 p., rank nine), which gave him a start delay of 44 seconds. Johannes Rydzek struggled a little more, collected only 104.4 points for 120 metres and had to contend with a time disadvantage of one minute and two seconds.
A fast group of skiers formed around Rydzek at the one minute mark with Magnus Moan (+1:07), Fabian Rießle (+1:11) and Jørgen Graabak (+1:18). Mikko Kokslien and Alessandro Pittin formed another fast duo on a shared rank 35 (+1:45).
The leading athletes skied a tactical, slow race in the beginning and so Eric Frenzel and Akito Watabe closed the gap to the top group around Björn Kircheisen quickly. After that, it was all about keeping the speed high enough to keep the charging fast athletes, with Johannes Rydzek as their lead, at a distance without losing too much energy. The lead changed between athletes but ultimately, Frenzel and Watabe were able to put some distance between them and Björn Kircheisen and Francois Braud on the last lap.
Johannes Rydzek skied for his life and tried to reach the top group but was not fully able to close the gap early enough to stay with his rival Frenzel and Watabe to fight for the victory. He did, however, close the gap to a very tired Björn Kircheisen and Francois Braud and while the Frenchman had to let go of the two Germans, veteran Kircheisen found a last reservoir of power and wrestled Rydzek down in a finish line sprint.
In the end, Watabe won his sprint for the victory by 0.4 seconds and Eric Frenzel was able to celebrate with buddy Björn Kircheisen, who finished 14.1 seconds behind Watabe. Rydzek was 0.1 second behind him, Braud claimed rank five.
– Longest jump of the day: Franz-Josef Rehrl (AUT) won the traditional prize for the jumping winner, which is awarded only in Oslo, with a jump of 131 metres (119.9 p.)
– Fastest cross-country time: Alessandro Pittin with 22:39.5 for the 10 km
– The Top Ten: Five Germans (Frenzel, Kircheisen, Rydzek, Rießle, Faißt), one Japanese (Watabe, A.), one Frenchman (Braud), one Finn (Hirvonen), one Norwegian (Moan), one Austrian (Seidl).
– Overall World Cup / Nations Cup Standings: The fight for the overall reaches a new height as the difference between Johannes Rydzek (1440) and Eric Frenzel (1434) has melted to only six points. Fabian Rießle is third with 989 points.
– Career bests: Muhlethaler (25).