- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - Akito Watabe knows what it’s like to be close to Eric Frenzel - and yet so far.

It happened again Wednesday in the gold medal final of the individual normal hill in Nordic combined at the Sochi Olympics, repeating a script that’s been written a few times on the World Cup circuit this season.

Watabe is in second place in the World Cup standings, albeit 352 points behind Frenzel, who won gold at the Sochi Games on Wednesday to reinforce his status as the pre-eminent Nordic combined athlete of the past two years.

Frenzel has seven World Cup wins this season. Watabe has one second and five thirds among his top-10 finishes, many of those podium positions after watching the German star dominate from the front and win easily.

On Wednesday, Watabe started six seconds behind Frenzel in the 10-kilometer cross-country race and the two exchanged the lead until Frenzel - almost effortlessly - pulled away in the final kilometer to win by 4.2 seconds.

A case of being too much to handle?

“Not just a little bit, he’s too strong,” Watabe said. “I tried to break away from him in the long uphill on the last lap, but I was really tired after that. He was stronger than me in the end. I think I had no chance today.”

After Frenzel led the ski jumping and Watabe was second, the two 25-year-olds discussed a plan to break away from the other skiers. That turned it into a two-man race.

“We were working together, me and Eric, and we were able to escape from the group,” he said “It was perfect.”

Well, not exactly. Frenzel wasn’t about to let Watabe take gold, despite their decision to work as a team for most of the race. Except that bit at the end.

Watabe, from Nagano, site of the 1998 Olympics, began cross-country skiing when he was in the first grade at school and took up ski jumping three years later. He combined them and started Nordic combined when he was 12.

His younger brother, Yoshito, now 22, followed him into the sport and finished 15th on Wednesday, 1:08 behind Frenzel. So make that two members of the Watabe family watching Frenzel win races.

“I tried, but Eric is better than me,” Akito Watabe said. “It is my dream to get gold. I didn’t achieve it, but I am really happy. It is a great day.”