Sophie Caldwell claims best Olympic finish for a U.S. female cross-country skier

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Sophie Caldwell may have finished last after falling in the women’s cross-country sprint final, but her sixth-place overall finish is now the best-ever for a U.S. female cross-country skier at the Olympics.

Caldwell was the lone American to escape the quarterfinals after gold medal contender Kikkan Randall, Ida Sargent and Jessie Diggins were all unable to move to the semifinals.

She then finished second in her semifinal heat, narrowly losing a photo finish to Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg, to move into the six-person final.

That same heat featured two more potential gold medalists in Denise Herrmann and Marit Bjorgen, but they finished fourth and sixth respectively and with Herrmann missing a “lucky loser” spot, both were knocked out.

Randall previously had the best Olympic mark for U.S. female cross-country skiers with her eighth-place result in this event four years ago at Vancouver.

Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla won the gold medal over Oestberg by .38 of a second, while Slovenia’s Vesna Fabjan got the bronze. NBCOlympics.com’s Alan Abrahamson confirms that Falla’s gold was Norway’s 100th Olympic medal in cross-country skiing.

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WOMEN’S CROSS-COUNTRY – SPRINT FINAL
1. Maiken Caspersen Falla (NOR), 2:35.49
2. Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg (NOR), +0.38 seconds
3. Vesna Fabjan (SLO), +0.40 seconds
4. Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen (NOR), +1.82 seconds
5. Iga Ingemarsdotter (SWE), +6.55 seconds
6. Sophie Caldwell (USA), +12.26 seconds

13. Jessie Diggins (USA), Eliminated in quarterfinals
18. Kikkan Randall (USA), Eliminated in quarterfinals
19. Ida Sargent (USA), Eliminated in quarterfinals

Michael Johnson took Olympic mindset in stroke recovery

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Michael Johnson‘s first walk, reportedly three days after suffering a stroke in the summer, was 200 meters down a hospital corridor.

“It took about 15 minutes,” Johnson said in a BBC video, detailing his full recovery in recent interviews.

Johnson, who at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics swept the 200m (in a world-record 19.32 seconds) and the 400m, suffered what he called “a mini stroke” after a home workout in late August.

Johnson felt not pain but tingling leaving his home gym and underwent a 20-minute MRI. The 50-year-old, who worked out regularly and was in otherwise great physical shape, almost fell rising out of the machine.

“Couldn’t put any weight on left side, no longer could really move my left leg,” Johnson said in the BBC interview. “The numbness of my left arm, which was sort of mild at the beginning and up to that point, was really intense at that point. I couldn’t feel a lot of my arm. You immediately start to think about, what’s my life going to be like going forward?”

There was no immediate answer.

“You start to think about loved ones — is my wife going to have to take care of me for the rest of my life?” Johnson said, according to the Telegraph. “Am I going to be able to walk again? Am I going to be in a wheelchair? Am I going to be able to stand in the shower or go to the restroom alone? You’re forced to think about what your life might be like if that worse-case scenario is reality.”

He began physical therapy early the next week. After that first walk, the distance equivalent of a half-lap of the track that he owned in the 1990s, he told his wife, “I will make a full recovery, and I will make a full recovery faster than anyone has ever done it before,” according to the Telegraph.

Within two weeks, Johnson was backing that up. He tweeted a photo of himself on Sept. 13, his 51st birthday, grimacing while lifting a square-shaped weight with each hand. “Almost back to normal. No days off! Even today. My birthday!” the caption read.

On Sept. 27, Johnson tweeted that it had been grueling, but he relearned to walk and made a full recovery.

“Once I knew that I will make a full recovery, and once I started to believe that, it’s very similar to the type of situation that I experienced as an athlete training for the Olympic Games, then all of a sudden suffering a pulled hamstring,” said Johnson, who fell to the track in the 2000 Olympic Trials 200m final with an upper left leg injury, then won the 400m at his last Games in Sydney. “The reward, in this particular situation, was going to be even greater, was going to be able to walk again, regaining my mobility, regaining my independence.”

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Tatjana Hüfner, 2010 Olympic luge champion, to retire after this season

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Tatjana Hüfner, a 2010 Olympic luge champion and five-time world champion in singles, said she will retire after this season, according to German newspaper Bild.

Hüfner, 35, cited recent health problems, including back and leg injuries leading into her last Olympics in PyeongChang, where she finished fourth, missing a fourth straight medal by .69 of a second (Hüfner dropped from second place going into the last run). Plus breaking a rib in a training crash this preseason, plus suffering food poisoning, according to the report.

Hüfner, who reportedly said before February’s Olympics that they would be her final Games, has been arguably the most integral luger in Germany’s recent dominance in female sliding.

Her Olympic career began as a spectator at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, watching Sylke Otto lead a German medal sweep. Later, Hüfner would break Otto’s record with five world singles titles, plus join Otto on the podium at Torino 2006, earning bronze. Hüfner took gold in Vancouver, then silver behind the new leading woman, Natalie Geisenberger, in Sochi.

Huefner spent offseasons scaling European peaks such as Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, the Matterhorn, and the Sella in northern Italy.

This season’s world championships are in Winterberg, Germany, in January.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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