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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