PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Eric Frenzel of Germany survived a thrilling last lap to take the gold medal in the Olympic men’s Nordic combined individual event on Wednesday and successfully defend the title he won in Sochi four years ago.
Sochi silver medallist Akito Watabe of Japan finished 4.8 seconds behind to claim second place once again and Lukas Klapfer of Austria secured the bronze.
When the ski jumping got underway after a half-hour delay due to high winds, Franz-Josef Rehrl of Austria recorded a superb leap of 130.6 meters to take a shock lead ahead of the cross-country skiing.
World Cup leader Watabe, third after the ski jumping, started the skiing slightly behind the leader but by the middle of the third lap he had closed the gap and moved into medal contention.
Frenzel moved clear of the group of five who had broken away, but the lead changed hands several times before the German tried to go alone on the last lap.
But he could not shake off the pursuing trio of Watabe, Klapfer and Jarl Magnus Riibe until a powerful surge on the final hill enabled him to cross the line on his own.
“It’s amazing. I feel really great. It was quite a hard race because the wind on the track was not so easy and on the last round my goal was to push really hard the last round, the last meters and the last uphill,” Frentzel told reporters.
“At the end, the only way was to go in front and make my own race. At the end I’m really, really happy about this victory today,” he added.
The delay at the start of the ski jumping had no effect on Frenzel’s performance.
“I think after the jump I was in a really great position. I knew it was a good jump. I was a little bit lucky with the wind - that was one of the big reasons why you today needed quite a little bit of luck so at the end I’m really happy,” he said.
It was the fourth Olympic medal for the 29-year-old German, who also won silver in Sochi and bronze at the Vancouver Games in 2010.
Norway’s Jan Schmid, who is second in the World Cup standings, dropped out of contention after a poor ski jump.
Reporting by Philip O'Connor, editing by Ed Osmond