January 20, 2023 | at the FISU Winter University Games
Team Japan 1 won gold on Thursday in Mixed Team Nordic, an event that combines nordic combined, ski jumping and cross-country skiing, making its FISU World University Games debut at Lake Placid 2023.
“This new event format has been very exciting. We hope it stays on the agenda for future FISU Games,” said Rin Sobue, who teamed up with Sakutaro Kobayashi and Machiko Kubota to win.
The podium after an amazing fight on the cross-country route was completed by Polska 1 in second place ahead of USA 1, which after a great overtime placed third.
In this new competition format, each team consists of one athlete from each discipline – with at least one of them being a woman.
During the morning part of the jumps, a specialist of each team and a competitor of the Nordic combination descended from the ski jumping hill of the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex.
Kubota, a two-time silver medalist at the FISU Games in ski jumping, was the strongest performer, and Kobayashi, who won two gold and one silver medal at the previous Nordic Combined competitions this week.
“I knew the other nations would be really strong in the cyclo-cross part, so I really focused on ski jumping today. I was trying to get as much of an advantage as possible in the cross country part of the race,” said Kobayashi.
His team took the lead with a 21-second lead over Team Japan II and a 33-second lead over Team Poland I. Team USA 1 was in fifth place after a series of jumps.
Due to heavy snowfall just before the start of the cross country race, consisting of two 2.5km laps on Mount Van Hoevenberg, skiers had to deal with sweet snow along the race course, causing some competitors to fall out of the starting gates .
Spectators witnessed the thrilling action of the race from the very beginning. Team Japan II’s first competitor, cross-country ski specialist Ryo Hirose, quickly closed the gap to Kobayashi. The two fought side by side before joining their teammates.
Sobue quickly pulled away from her compatriot Ayane Miyzaki, who couldn’t keep up with the pace of her rivals, and was quickly caught up by the strong Poland 1 runner Weronika Kaleta, who started from third place and secured the silver medal.
“I didn’t expect second place, I thought it might be third,” Kaleta said in the post-race interview. “I worked hard for this medal. I’ve really been unlucky in individual races so I’m happy to finally get it today – it’s an amazing feeling.”
Incredible team effort was also shown by Team USA 1, who moved up from fifth place to bronze. In the last stage, the teams of Poland and Japan were overtaken by specialist cross-country skier Erin Bianco.
“I believe we had a chance for a podium today,” said Bianco. “I had some inside information that the other team wasn’t too far ahead, so I just did everything I could to catch them.”
The new formula of the competition met with a very positive response from the athletes.
“It was great fun. Combining all sports means you get to meet so many new people – it’s really cool,” said Bianco. “I would definitely like it if they kept it for future editions of the Games.”
Written by Annika Saunus, FISU Young Reporter
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