SEEFELD, AUSTRIA – Japan fell behind and had to settle for fourth place in the Nordic combined men’s team event Saturday at the FIS Nordic Ski World Championships, failing in its bid to reach the podium for the first time in 10 years.
Team Japan, composed of brothers Akito and Yoshito Watabe, Hideaki Nagai and Go Yamamoto, started the 4×5-km relay in second place just 0.01 second off the lead after a solid ski jumping round.
But the men dropped to fourth by the third leg of the highly-contested race, and after falling over a minute behind due to Nagai’s struggles with a broken pole, anchor Akito Watabe could only cross the line 28.7 seconds behind despite a heroic effort.
“I knew there was a difference in our running ability,” said Watabe, who was also part of the 2009 team that won gold at the world championships in the Czech Republic.
“We have to raise that in the younger generation (of competitors) in order to strengthen the Japanese team.”
Norway earned its first world championship title since 2005 with a time of 50 minutes, 15.5 seconds. Germany took silver one second back, while Austria finished five seconds behind for the bronze.
Nagai took some of the blame for Japan’s result due to the mishap with his stick.
“My stick was bent after I hit it with my ski,” Nagai said. “There might have been some impatience there on my part. I’m sorry to the team.”
Akito Watabe won bronze in the men’s individual normal hill event on Thursday.
At the final ski jumping competition in Seefeld, Japan’s squad of Yuki Ito, Yukiya Sato, Sara Takanashi and Ryoyu Kobayashi finished fifth in the mixed team event and missed out on a medal for the first time in four tournaments.
Kobayashi posted the longest leap of the day with 113 meters on his final jump, but it was too little, too late as the foursome finished with 928.6 points, having needed 10 more to land on the podium.
“This is a result of everyone doing their best right now,” said Kobayashi, the overall men’s leader with 11 wins on the World Cup circuit this season.
“Since there will be a mixed team event at the (2022 Winter) Olympics (in Beijing), I think everyone will work hard from now on and get better.”
Germany won its third straight mixed team gold with 1,012.2 points. Austria claimed silver with 989.9, while Norway rounded out the podium with 938.4.
Japan won the inaugural mixed team event at the 2013 world championships in Italy, and followed up with bronzes at the next two editions in Sweden and Finland.
The Japanese men’s team, anchored by Kobayashi, picked up bronze at the large hill event last Sunday, Japan’s only other medal at this year’s tournament.
In the women’s 30-km freestyle mass start, Masako Ishida finished 24th, while Miki Kodama was 42nd and Sumiko Ishigaki was 45th.
Norway’s Therese Johaug earned her third world championship title following wins in the 15-km pursuit and 10-km classical.
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