U.S. cross-country ski team inches closer to powerhouses as American women take home 3 medals
LAHTI, Finland — Think of a U.S. skiing medal contender for the Winter Olympics and Lindsey Vonn or Bode Miller flying down the side of a mountain often come to mind. But now a tight-knit team is showing the United States can succeed in the grueling world of cross-country skiing too.
The U.S. women’s cross-country ski team has marked its most successful world championships in Finland with three medals from six events, raising hopes ahead of the 2018 Olympics.
While the team couldn’t end the championships with a medal in Saturday’s 30-kilometer freestyle race, fifth place for Minnesota-born Jessica Diggins was another record-high finish for the U.S.
Diggins finished the championships with silver in the individual sprint and bronze in the team sprint, the latter honor remarkable because the race was strictly in classic style. This tends to favor European skiers, rather than the skate-skiing style which is the U.S. specialty.
Until eight years ago, the U.S. women’s team had never won a cross-country medal at the world championships, but now it’s a contender in almost every race.
Kikkan Randall, the pioneering U.S. medalist back in 2009, has mentored a new generation including Diggins and Sadie Bjornsen, who won bronze alongside Diggins in the team sprint. It’s a change from the days when Randall was the only standout U.S. cross-country skier.
“Before, I wished for teammates,” the 34-year-old Randall, who won individual sprint bronze last week, told The Associated Press. “Now it’s a challenge just to make our relay (team), everybody’s skiing so fast.”
It’s a success created in the wilds of Alaska, where the U.S. team often trains at Eagle Glacier, a spartan base reached by helicopter. Training and competing together year-round has forged a tight bond. Diggins says she considers her teammates her “big sisters.”
Historically, however, the Olympics have been a stumbling block for U.S. cross-country skiers. Randall was hotly favored for a sprint medal in 2014, but was eliminated in the quarterfinals. A silver medalist in 1976, Bill Koch was much hyped ahead of the 1980 games in Lake Placid, but also failed to medal.
This time round the U.S. has new strength in depth as a team. Randall, who plans to retire after the PyeongChang Olympics, is aiming for a medal in one of the two team events.
“With the success we’ve had here,” she said, “I’m really excited about our chances next year.”
Norway sweeps women’s titles
LAHTI, Finland — Marit Bjoergen won the 30-kilometer classical race as Norway completed a sweep of women’s cross-country ski titles at the Nordic world championships on Saturday.
The Norwegians made an emphatic statement ahead of the PyeongChang Olympics, taking the top four places with strong team tactics on the final sprint of the 30K.
Bjoergen took her record 18th career gold medal — and fourth of the championships — by 1.9 seconds from Heidi Weng, who needed a photo finish to beat Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen into third place.
“It has exceeded all expectations. I’m glad it’s over now. It has been so thrilling,” Bjoergen said.
Jessica Diggins of the United States was the top non-Norwegian in fifth, a place behind Ragnhild Haga. Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla had been in the hunt for a medal but broke a ski pole shortly before the finish.
No country had won all of the women’s cross-country gold medals at a single worlds since Russia in 1997, when there were only five on offer, rather than the current six.
Poland swept to victory in the men’s ski jumping large hill team competition. The squad of Kamil Stoch, Maciej Kot, Dawid Kubacki and Piotr Zyla brought together some of the sport’s biggest names to win with a score of 1104.2 points from eight jumps.
Norway took second on 1078.5, while Austria took third on 1068.9.
The Austrian bronze meant a fourth medal for Stefan Kraft, who earlier won the individual competitions on the normal hill and large hill, as well as silver in the mixed team normal hill event.
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