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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Michael Phelps still has ‘no desire’ to come back

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Michael Phelps says he has “no desire” to return to competitive swimming, but he is eager to stay involved with the sport and cheer on those who follow in his enormous wake.

In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press while promoting a healthy pet food campaign, Phelps said he is excited about the birth of his second child and numerous opportunities away from the pool.

It was around this time four years ago when Phelps got serious about ending his first retirement, but he now seems content with his decision to step away again after the Rio Olympics.

His wife, Nicole, is about four months pregnant. The couple already has a 16-month-old son, Boomer.

“I’ve got no desire, no desire to come back,” the 32-year-old Phelps said flatly.

Phelps has attended a handful of swimming meets since the Rio Games, where the winningest athlete in Olympic history added to his already massive career haul by claiming five gold medals plus a silver. A few months ago, he conceded to the AP that he was eager to see how he would feel about a possible comeback after this year’s world championships in Budapest, Hungary.

Turns out, it had no impact.

Phelps said watching others compete “truly didn’t kick anything off or spike any more interest in coming out of retirement again.”

He is eager to follow the development of his heir apparent, Caeleb Dressel, who emerged as the sport’s newest star by winning seven gold medals at Budapest. The 21-year-old Floridian joined Phelps and Mark Spitz as the only swimmers to accomplish that feat at a major international meet.

“I’m happy Caeleb decided to go off this year instead of last year,” Phelps joked. “I’m kind of happy to see him swimming so well when I’m not there.”

With Dressel and Katie Ledecky now leading the American team, the U.S. is expected to remain the world’s dominant swimming country heading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Even without Phelps.

“It’s time to kind of move on,” he said, “and watch other people come into their own.”

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Dutch cyclist returns from horrific Rio crash to win world title

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Dutch road cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten came back from this dramatic Rio Olympic crash to win her first world title on Tuesday, taking the time trial in Bergen, Norway.

“This one is really beautiful without the crash in Rio, but this makes the story really, really special,” an emotional van Vleuten said. “Actually, I still cannot believe it. … This season I’m surprising myself what I can do. To be world champion in the time trial, I never thought I’d be able of this.”

Van Vleuten, 34, covered the 13-mile course in 28 minutes, 50.35 seconds, topping countrywoman Anna ven der Breggen by 12 seconds.

Australian Katrin Garfoot took bronze, 19.02 seconds ahead of Chloe Dygert, a U.S. Olympic silver medalist in track cycling. American Amber Neben, the defending champion, was 11th.

Full results are here.

In Rio, van Vleuten suffered three small spine fractures and a concussion when her brakes appeared to lock, and she flipped over into a ditch during the road race. Van Vleuten was alone in the lead at the time with about seven miles to go of the 87-mile course.

She was eventually hospitalized in intensive care.

Van der Breggen went on to win the Olympic title.

Van Vleuten wasn’t out long. She raced at last October’s world championships, placing a career-high fifth in the time trial. She then won La Course in France, a two-day race, in July.

“To be an athlete is to have really ups and downs,” van Vleuten said Tuesday. “Sometimes really downs, but the downs make the ups even more beautiful, I think.”

Van Vleuten’s first celebratory act Tuesday was to climb past two barriers and into her mother’s arms.

“Last year my mum watched the Rio race on television, it was her birthday and she was with lots of my family, so it was a really hard day for her,” Van Vleuten said in a news conference, according to Cyclingnews.com. “My father died in 2008, and so it was really special to have her here and celebrate the good things of cycling together. We’ve dealt with bad things together in the past, so it’s important to be really happy and proud to celebrate and to also remember my father.”

The world championships continue Wednesday with the men’s time trial at 7 a.m. ET on the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBCSports.com/live.

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