Nordic worlds playing to modest crowds in Japan

The Nordic World Ski Championships, the first to be held in Asia as a separate event, have been getting a cool reception in Japan.

Just a little over 7,000 fans showed up to watch the ski jumping team event at the Okurayama hill on Sunday even though Japan featured prominently in the showcase competition by winning a bronze medal.

The crowds at cross-country skiing and Nordic combined events have been equally disappointing despite some good weather in Sapporo, Japan's fifth-largest city.

"I was a little disappointed with the crowd," said Germany's Bjorn Kircheisen after finishing third in the Nordic combined sprint at Sapporo Dome. "At the last world championships in (Oberstdorf) Germany you had a great atmosphere with about 30,000 fans cheering you across the finish line."

Other than ski jumping, Nordic skiing events don't have a big following in Japan or the rest of Asia but skiing officials are hoping that staging the championships here will change that.

So far, the signs aren't too encouraging. One of the most lasting images of the event so far was a spectacular crash by local favorite Daito Takahashi in a large hill Nordic combined ski jumping event.

Takahashi escaped with a broken left shoulder but the crash was shown over and over on local television and has even shown up on the Internet.

The buckle on Takahashi's left ski came unattached in mid-flight and the Japanese skier turned upside down in the air before hitting the slope on his back and being carried to a nearby hospital.

Traditional Nordic skiing powers are dominating the meet. Finland leads with three golds. Norway has the most number of medals with nine overall, reports AP.

The 2007 championships mark the first time the meet is being held as an independent event in Asia. In 1972, when the Olympic Winter Games were held in Sapporo, they doubled as the FIS World Ski Championships.

There was a medals ceremony on Monday but no competitions were held. The Feb.22-March 4th meet continues on Tuesday with the women's 10-kilometer cross-country race.

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