Kikkan Randall

USA’s Randall finishes 5th in final race before Olympics; Bjoergen wins

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U.S. cross-country gold medal threat Kikkan Randall and her teammates have completed their final FIS World Cup sprint race before the Olympics.

Randall picked up a fifth-place finish to lead the Americans in today’s free technique event at Toblach, Italy, a race that was won by one of her main rivals in Sochi, Norway’s Marit Bjoergen – who also won the ladies 10km event yesterday at Toblach.

Bjoergen topped today’s podium, finishing ahead of German runner-up and overall World Cup sprint standings leader Denise Herrmann, and her Norwegian teammate in third, Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg.

“I think my legs were a little bit tired after yesterday and the training camp in Seiser Alm [Italy],” Bjoergen said in an FIS release. “I didn’t feel very fast in the qualification.

“But each heat I felt a little bit better and was able to advance each time.  I was able to get myself into good position off the downhill in the final to be able to get the win today.”

For highlights of Bjoergen’s win, check out this clip from Universal Sports.

It was a banner day for Norway all around, as in addition to Bjoergen’s victory in the women’s sprint, the men’s sprint was won by a Norwegian, Ola Vigen Hattestad. His teammate, Eirik Brandsdal, was second, followed by another German, Jozef Wenzl, in third.

Despite losing out to the Norway duo, Wenzl did manage to take the overall World Cup sprint lead over Italy’s Federico Pellegrino, who finished 16th today on home ground. Simi Hamilton, entering his second Olympics, finished 14th to lead the American men.

As for Randall, it would appear that all systems are indeed a go on her end as she now turns her attention to Sochi:

A second American woman cracked the Top 20, with Sophie Caldwell finishing 19th. Jessie Diggins, who won the 2013 World Championship in the team sprint with Randall, was 28th.

FIS World Cup – Women’s Free Sprint at Toblach
1. Marit Bjoergen (NOR)
2. Denise Herrmann (GER)
3. Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg (NOR)
4. Maiken Caspersen Falla (NOR)
5. Kikkan Randall (USA)
19. Sophie Caldwell (USA)
28. Jessie Diggins (USA)
29. Holly Brooks (USA)
33. Ida Sargent (USA)
37. Sadie Bjornsen (USA)
41. Caitlin Gregg (USA)

FIS World Cup – Men’s Free Sprint at Toblach
1. Ola Vigen Hallestad (NOR)
2. Eirik Brandsdal (NOR)
3. Jozef Wenzl (GER)
4. Paal Golberg (NOR)
5. Teodor Peterson (SWE)
14. Simeon Hamilton (USA)
17. Andrew Newell (USA)
35. Torin Koos (USA)

Paralympic track star Tatyana McFadden named to Sochi Nordic skiing team

Mikaela Shiffrin wrestles with doubt in seconds before World Cup downhill debut

Mikaela Shiffrin, of the United States, skis during the third training run for the World Cup women's downhill ski race in Lake Louise, Alberta, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)
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After a momentary panic in the start house, Mikaela Shiffrin raced to a tie for 18th in the first downhill of her World Cup career in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Friday.

Shiffrin, the youngest Olympic slalom champion who has also won a World Cup giant slalom, has been slowly adding the speed events of super-G and downhill to her repertoire the last two seasons.

“It wasn’t bad,” Shiffrin said, according to SkiRacing.com. “I certainly didn’t risk anything crazy.”

Her result Friday, 1.99 seconds behind Slovenian winner Ilka Stuhec, came after Shiffrin was 18th, 24th and 30th fastest in downhill training runs the previous three days. Shiffrin also had to wait several minutes in the start house as the racer before her crashed (video here).

“That was just a bummer,” Shiffrin said, according to the Denver Post. “I was like, ‘Just don’t let it affect you,’ but being up there for 10 minutes, like, ‘What happened? What’s taking them so long? What’s going on? Is she hurt?’

“Then I started doubting myself, like my technique going off the jumps, which is actually pretty good. I was going back and forth between, ‘Should I even be doing this? Maybe I just should pull out because I don’t want to kill myself.’ Then I’m like, ‘You’re absolutely fine, you haven’t felt sketched out a single time on this track in the past three days, so stick with that. You don’t have to go crazy.'”

“To be fast in speed there certainly needs to be a certain level of risk, and I know that, but now, if [giant slalom] and slalom are my main priority this season, I don’t need to be going crazy in a downhill with flat light and after I got iced [waiting so long],” Shiffrin said, according to SkiRacing.com.

Stuhec won Friday’s race by .22 of a second over Italian Sofia Goggia. Swede Kajsa Kling was third.

A race replay can be seen here. Full results are here.

Lindsey Vonn, owner of a record 18 wins at Lake Louise, is missing the annual World Cup stop in Alberta due to a broken arm from a November crash. Vonn had raced at Lake Louise each of the previous 15 seasons.

Last season, Shiffrin made her World Cup debut in the super-G at Lake Louise and finished 15th.

The women have another downhill Saturday and a super-G on Sunday in Lake Louise, both streaming live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app (schedule here).

MORE: Vonn eyes January return from her most painful injury

High-speed crash at World Cup downhill in Lake Louise (video)

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Swiss Joana Haehlen crashed into netting at high speed during a World Cup downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta, on Friday.

Haehlen, 24, lost her right ski after landing from a jump and sped uncontrollably off course. She braced for impact, slammed into red netting and was turned around before landing with neither of her skis still attached.

She lay on the snow while being attended to and eventually skied down the mountain on her own.

It caused a 10-minute delay before the next skier, American Mikaela Shiffrin, could take her run.

VIDEO: Vonn details the most painful injury of her career