U.S. earns historic cross-country skiing world medals

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U.S. cross-country skiing had its best-ever individual race at an Olympics or world championships, with Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall taking silver and bronze medals in the worlds sprint on Thursday.

Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla, the Olympic champion and World Cup sprint leader, easily won the final in 3:02.34 under the lights in Lahti, Finland.

Diggins crossed 1.66 seconds later, while Randall held off Swede Hanna Falk by .15 for bronze. The U.S. had half of the skiers in the final, with Sophie Caldwell finishing sixth.

The U.S. has never earned an individual Olympic or world title in cross-country skiing, but Thursday’s finish was unprecedented for the nation.

Diggins and Randall previously teamed to win the first U.S. gold at worlds, in the team sprint in 2013. Diggins and Randall also own individual world silver medals from separate races. Diggins and Caitlin Gregg earned silver and bronze in the 10km freestyle in 2015, but the U.S.’ next-best finisher was 10th.

“Hopefully really inspiring, because we’re not a country that has historically been known for [cross-country] skiing,” Diggins said. “But then we’ve created this women’s team together and worked so hard together, and I think that teamwork really shows. We can be stronger together than we can as individuals.”

Diggins has made three World Cup podiums this season, with two wins. Randall, coming back from April childbirth, had a top World Cup finish this season of fifth but previously won 13 individual World Cup races.

“It was a slow start to the season, and it took a lot of patience,” said Randall, who turned 34 years old on New Year’s Eve. “But the shape is building, and I hoped to find the best shape here. It worked.”

Randall’s pre-race routine Thursday included feeding breakfast to son Breck, cleaning his bib and putting him down for a nap before bringing him to the venue.

“It’s very encouraging to know that it’s only been 10 months, and I’ve been able to come back to top form,” Randall said. “I was able to train well through my pregnancy and come back to training pretty soon after the birth.”

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 Olympic cross-country skiing event.

Worlds continue Saturday with the men’s and women’s skiathlons on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app at 5 a.m. ET.

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Alina Zagitova eyes more gold at worlds; women’s preview

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Alina Zagitova hasn’t lost internationally in 18 months, and that doesn’t figure to change this week at the world championships in Milan.

The 15-year-old Russian is favored to become the youngest world gold medalist since Tara Lipinski (duplicating her feat from the Olympics) and make it five straight Olympic or world titles for Russian women, the longest streak for one country since American Carol Heiss won six straight Olympic/world titles from 1956 through 1960.

Zagitova would also become the first Olympic women’s champion to win worlds the following month since Kristi Yamaguchi in 1992. That’s largely because Olympic champions usually skip worlds in Olympic years. Since Yamaguchi, the only one to compete was Yuna Kim, who grabbed silver in 2010.

Zagitova may be young, but she may not have the longevity of Kim to make it to a second Olympics. Russia turns over a new class of elite women’s skaters every year.

Two weeks ago, 13-year-old Alexandra Trusova won the world junior title as the first woman to land two different quadruple jumps in one program. Trusova isn’t old enough to compete at the senior worlds until 2020.

Zagitova’s current rival and training partner, Olympic silver medalist and 2016 and 2017 World champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, withdrew from worlds due to injury.

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Which leaves the last two Olympic bronze medalists, Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada and Carolina Kostner of Italy, plus PyeongChang fourth-place finisher Satoko Miyahara of Japan as the top challengers this week.

None finished within seven points of Zagitova at any competition this season, the Russian’s first on the senior international level.

Zagitova set herself apart at the Olympics by putting all of her jumps in the second half of her programs for 10 percent bonuses and landing them all with positive grades of execution.

The U.S. contingent includes national champion Bradie Tennell, two-time Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Mariah Bell (replacement for 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen).

It is the end of a challenging season for U.S. women. In the autumn, none qualified for the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year (after at least one had done so each of the previous seven seasons).

In PyeongChang, no U.S. woman finished in the top six for the first time in Winter Games history. Tennell, who emerged this season after placing ninth at 2017 Nationals, was the top U.S. Olympic finisher in ninth.

Tennell goes into worlds as the top seeded American — seventh — by best international scores this season.

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Olympic golf qualifying, format largely unchanged for 2020

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The Tokyo 2020 Olympic golf tournaments qualifying and format will remain largely the same as they were for the sport’s return to the Games in 2016, according to Golf Channel, citing a memo sent to PGA Tour players.

The format will again be four rounds of stroke play with 60 men and 60 women taken from the world rankings, according to the report.

The qualifying window to determine the rankings will be July 1, 2018 to June 22, 2020 for men and July 8, 2018 to June 29, 2020 for women. That’s a slight change, as for 2016 the dates were the same for men and women.

The 2016 process saw a maximum of two men and two women per country, or up to four if they were ranked in the top 15.

Then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said one month after the Rio Games that he hoped the Olympic golf format would be changed to have more medals awarded.

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