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Nordic combined: Akito Watabe left with silver in World Cup photo finish

Japan’s Akito Watabe missed out on his first World Cup victory of the season by only centimeters Sunday, when the Pyeongchang silver medalist finished runner-up in a neck-and-neck race with Norway’s Jorgen Graabak in Finland.

Watabe led off with a 124-meter jump on Lahti’s large hill to start the cross-country segment in second place, and closed the 43-second gap between Austria’s Mario Seidl after six kilometers.

Graabak, who began the race 1 minute, 14 seconds behind, overtook the pair on the final lap, but Watabe — careful to avoid causing a similar accident that resulted in his team’s disqualification on Saturday — stepped on the gas to reach the Norwegian at the final push.

Both skiers crossed the line in 24:39.8, but the judgement went in favor of Graabak in a remarkably close photo finish. The 30-year-old Watabe earned his fifth podium finish this season, while Seidl took third 15.6 seconds behind.

«I wanted to win,» Watabe said. «It’s frustrating to lose, but I brought it to a final sprint in the end. I think I’ll come away with a good feeling to take to the world championships.»

Watabe laughingly admitted Graabak’s longer legs may have played a part in the Norwegian’s win, but also said he purposefully kept his distance from his opponent, having been shaken up by Saturday’s crash with Norway’s Magnus Krog.

The 2019 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships kick off in Austria next Wednesday.

All — Kyodo News+

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