U.S. puts 2 women on Tour de Ski stage podium

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Jessie Diggins won her third straight World Cup 5km freestyle, while Sadie Bjornsen notched her first individual World Cup podium as the U.S. put two racers in the top three of a Tour de Ski stage for the first time on Friday.

Full results are here. Tour de Ski standings through five of seven stages are here.

The Tour de Ski, which debuted in 2006-07, is a weeklong, all-around test of the world’s best cross-country skiers. Stages vary in distance and technique.

Diggins, 25, continued her strong season with her third World Cup podium in 12 starts. She made her Olympic debut in Sochi with a best finish of eighth.

Though Diggins owns the 5km freestyle, that event is not contested at the Olympics.

The U.S. owns one Olympic cross-country medal, Bill Koch‘s 30km silver at the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Games. A U.S. woman has never placed higher than sixth in any event.

This year’s Tour de Ski is lacking the sport’s biggest female stars.

Norway’s Marit Bjoergen and Therese Johaug and Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk combined to win 12 of the last 13 individual world titles, the last eight World Cup overall titles, the last seven Tour de Ski overall titles and six of the last seven individual Olympic titles.

Bjoergen and Kowalczyk are skipping the Tour to focus on the world championships in February and March, while Johaug is serving a doping ban.

The top skier this season has been another Norwegian, Heidi Weng, who leads the World Cup and Tour de Ski overall standings. Diggins is fifth in the Tour de Ski standings, which would match the best finish ever for an American.

Diggins is now tied with four-time Olympian Kikkan Randall for the most Tour de Ski stage wins (two) and podiums (three) for an American.

MORE: Doping agency eyes 14-month ban for world’s best XC skier

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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MORE: What to watch every day of PyeongChang Olympics

USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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