The Yomiuri Shimbun SOCHI—Akito Watabe, a medal hopeful in the Nordic combined, did not hesitate to express his confidence in winning a gold medal at the Sochi Olympics at a press conference Saturday.
“I’m prepared to capture a gold,” the ace of the Japan squad said confidently when he and four other members held their first press conference at Sochi. “You can expect me to win.”
For Watabe, the Sochi Olympics is his third Games appearance. In the 2013-14 season, the 25-year-old has maintained steady performances, as illustrated by the fact that he mounted the podium at four of this season’s first six World Cup events.
So far, Watabe finished eighth or higher at all 10 World Cup races he has competed in this season.
For Watabe, the Sochi Olympics are a long-awaited major event. “It has taken eight years since my first Olympics, and deep in my heart I’m aiming for a gold medal,” Watabe said.
Watabe missed a World Cup event in early January after catching the flu. However, he showed he had fully recovered by racing to third when he competed in the last World Cup race before Sochi in Oberstdorf, Germany, on Jan. 26.
“I don’t have any lingering influences [from the flu]. My jumps and runs are much better compared to those at Oberstdorf,” Watabe said. “I’m looking forward to [my performances at the Olympics] even though you’ll never know until you complete a race.”
The Japan team’s overall performance has been rising, according to Watabe’s younger brother, Yoshito, who will make his Olympic debut. “I can make better jumps these days,” the Waseda University student said.
Other members followed suit. “I believe I can put on a good performance as I’ve gotten rid of my fatigue,” said Taihei Kato, who placed fourth at the World Cub event held in Sochi during the 2012-13 season.
Yusuke Minato also expressed his confidence in his cross-country skiing.
Since arriving in Sochi early Thursday, the team focused on practices and other preparations, without speaking to reporters. The members are staying at the Multisupport House run by the Japan Sport Council instead of at the Olympic Village.
The fact that the athletes can enjoy a familiar environment at the facility gives them an advantage. “It’s significant that we can eat Japanese meals three times a day,” said Hideaki Nagai, 30, the oldest member of the team. “We enjoy taking a bath after dinner.”