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Jessie Diggins sets more goals after Olympic gold

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Here comes Jessie Diggins.

Diggins, who in PyeongChang teamed with Kikkan Randall to win the U.S.’ first Olympic cross-country skiing title, heads to Europe on Monday to ramp up training for the World Cup season that begins Thanksgiving weekend.

She plans to work her way into top fitness, peaking at the world championships in Austria in late February. Though Diggins has her Olympic gold, the 27-year-old rattles off goals with the kind of excitement that jibes with the face glitter with which she is known to race.

“There’s so many things left to accomplish, but I think one of my biggest ones that would mean so much to me is if we got a medal in the 4x5km relay,” Diggins said in a recent interview. “That really shows the strength of the team and depth of the team. For me, that would be possibly the most meaningful thing to ever accomplish.”

Diggins was part of the last three world championships relays. The U.S. finished fourth in 2013, 2015 and 2017. In PyeongChang, the Americans were fifth. If they are to make the podium either this season or at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, it must be without stalwart Randall.

The Alaskan retired after her fifth Olympics. In July, Randall announced she was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. She has documented treatment the last four months, including posing for a photo after surgery this week wearing a pink Superman crown, holding an orange popsicle and lifting a thumbs-up.

“She’s doing such a great job, going after this newest challenge with so much tenacity and strength and courage,” Diggins said. “We’re there to support her in every way that we can.”

Diggins not only takes over the role as veteran U.S. leader on the World Cup, but also remains one of the biggest challengers to Norwegian dominance. In the last Olympic cycle, she moved from 22nd in the World Cup overall standings in 2015 to eighth in 2016, sixth in 2017 and runner-up to Heidi Weng last year.

Three Norwegians combined to win the last five World Cup overall titles. Although 15-time Olympic medalist Marit Bjørgen retired after PyeongChang, two-time World Cup overall champion Therese Johaug is now eligible to return from a two-season ban over lip cream.

“It would be pretty cool to some day try to win the crystal globe, try to get the overall to show that you can compete in every event throughout the entire season,” said Diggins, whose five individual World Cup race wins came in 5km and 10km freestyles. “That’s a huge, huge reach goal, but I was second by 40 points last year, so I guess it’s not the craziest goal to have.”

Bill Koch is the lone American to win a World Cup overall title, doing so in 1982. He was also the lone U.S. Olympic cross-country medalist until February. The Diggins and Randall team sprint victory was groundbreaking in itself, but the “Here Comes Diggins!” exclamatory call by NBC Olympics analyst Chad Salmela also added impact.

Diggins could not estimate how many times she has heard the phrase in the last eight months. She has known the fellow Minnesota native Salmela since high school.

Diggins has been feted across the Land of 10,000 Lakes since returning from South Korea. She was honored with her own day and ice cream in her hometown of Afton. She was overwhelmed by the response to revealing her teenage eating disorder.

“It was really emotional at times, because I heard from these young girls who reminded me of me,” she told NBC’s affiliate in Minneapolis.

While appearing at a fundraiser for a World Cup event to be held in Minneapolis in 2020, a man with the Minnesota Vikings asked if she would speak to the football team. She obliged and afterward praised the players twice her size for the respect shown to her.

“I can’t tell you all the secrets, but basically the message was how do we focus on what we can control so that we can perform when it matters,” she said. “Like I said to them, I don’t know anything about football. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert. They’re the experts. But I do know what it’s like to work so hard day after day, going after these crazy goals with the team. I know what works in my sport when it comes to focusing in and trying to peak at the right moment.”

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer expanded after the team won their following game.

“Basically she talked about how everybody can do anything for 10 things, whether it’s 10 push-ups, or as she said, ’10km, but I would count ten strides,'” Zimmer said. “Who knows if any of that stuff is a big factor in winning, but it gets you to think about what’s important and how you can overcome when you’re tired, basically about sucking it up.”

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MORE: Best cross-country skiing moments from PyeongChang Olympics

Mikaela Shiffrin races for another reindeer

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Mikaela Shiffrin already has three Olympic medals. She can win her third reindeer on Saturday.

Shiffrin headlines the first slalom of the World Cup season in Levi, Finland, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming via NBC Sports Gold’s Snow Pass.

The first run is at 4:15 a.m. ET. The second is at 7.

The traditional (and unconventional) winner’s prize in Finland is a reindeer. Shiffrin captured the Levi slalom in 2013 and 2016, naming her furry friends Rudolph and Sven.

The reindeer stay in Finland while Shiffrin criss-crosses Europe and North America on the World Cup tour.

Shiffrin lost in her trademark discipline in Levi last fall to a new rival, Petra Vlhova of Slovakia.

Motivated, Shiffrin won the next six slaloms before skiing out of the last slalom before the Olympics. Then in PyeongChang, Shiffrin shockingly finished fourth in defense of her Sochi Olympic title (after a giant slalom gold and before a super combined silver).

She bounced back, winning the last two World Cup slaloms of the 2017-18 season.

In the past, Shiffrin voiced a goal of winning every slalom in a season. She won all but three each of the last two years. Levi is the first of 12 World Cup slaloms this season.

Shiffrin must overcome the three women who made the PyeongChang podium ahead of her — Swede Frida Hansdotter, Swiss Wendy Holdener and Austrian Katharina Gallhuber.

She has already shown strong form, taking third in the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, three weeks ago.

Nothing but a third reindeer will suffice in Saturday’s slalom, though.

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Gracie Gold wants to be new skater in comeback event; TV/stream schedule

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When Gracie Gold was in treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder last year, she received a message from two-time Olympian Jeremy Abbott.

“If you ever want to come back to skating, I want to do an exhibition piece for you as a gift,” Abbott, who has taken up choreography in retirement, told his friend. Gold said it was a sweet offer and thanked him.

“At that point I don’t think that she had thought about coming back at all,” Abbott said last week.

Several months later, Gold had thought it over. She contacted Abbott in the spring.

“I’m going to make a go at this. Would you be willing to do my programs?” Abbott recalled Gold telling him. “I was shocked,” Abbott continued, “but also, at the same time, I was not.”

Gold, a two-time U.S. champ who finished fourth at the 2014 Olympics, competes this week for the first time since the January 2017 U.S. Championships. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of Rostelecom Cup from Moscow.

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 6 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
8 a.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
10:30 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
12 p.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Saturday 5:30 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
7:30 a.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
9:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
11:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Sunday 12 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

Gold, who detailed her last two years in a video published a month ago, is refraining from more interviews until after she skates. Abbott choreographed both her short and long programs, making a few trips to her Pennsylvania training base in the last six months. Gold is coached by former French skater Vincent Restencourt.

“She told me that she wanted to be a new skater and a new Gracie,” Abbott said. “She said that she always admired the artistry that I had and that she really wanted to bring something new to her skating.”

Abbott said her program music choices — “I Put a Spell On You” and “She Used to Be Mine,” the latter from the Broadway musical “Waitress” — reflect the new Gold. The former is “a little more mature and a little more sexy and playful than anything she’s done in the past.” The latter speaks to how she got from there to here in the last two years.

“At one point, she was on top of the world and had everything at her feet,” Abbott said. (Gold has said she spiraled psychologically after squandering a short-program lead at the 2016 Worlds and missing the podium altogether.) “Then she had some really big struggles and had to really step back from the life that she knew. Now she’s having to rebuild herself. It’s kind of looking back at who she was and who she used to be and now where she is and who she wants to become.”

Gold made it clear to Abbott whom she wanted to become.

“She was like, ‘I always was viewed as a jumper and not a skater. I always wanted to be an artist, but everyone told me stick to what you’re best at,'” Abbott said. “Working with her, she is an artist. She is sensitive. She understands the music. She gets it.”

Abbott visited Gold once this fall for choreography touch-ups and will not be in Moscow with her and Restencourt. Rather, he will be performing in 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton‘s show in Nashville on Sunday.

Abbott doesn’t know how Gold is handling the comeback nerves or what to expect of her jumps.

“This isn’t like a big massive coming-out party for her,” he said. “This is really just the first step to get her feet back under her, get her going again because the plan isn’t about this competition. The plan isn’t about this season. The plan is really about building for her future and the next four years.”

The field is led by Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, fellow Russian Sofia Samodurova and Japanese Yuna Shiraiwa, all 16-year-olds with a chance to make December’s exclusive, six-skater Grand Prix Final.

This is Gold’s lone competition until the new year. Many will watch and wonder how she stacks up among Americans heading into January’s national championships. (Two U.S. women are ranked in the top 30 in the world this season, with many big names sitting out the fall.)

“From where her life was, I think it takes some major balls to even put herself back into this situation,” said Abbott, who noted that when he first visited Gold in the spring, she had her double jumps back. “For where she came from, she’s made huge strides. It’s really been impressive to watch her growth.”

In the men’s field, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu is a heavy favorite given the absence of his top rivals, Nathan Chen and Shoma Uno. Canadian Keegan Messing and Russian Mikhail Kolyada are also in the mix to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

In pairs, Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are the clear favorites on home ice, but Americans Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc carry the intrigue.

They have a great chance at the Grand Prix Final if they can finish second, after taking third at Skate America four weeks ago. Cain and LeDuc rank fourth in the Rostelecom field by best scores this season but are only 4.21 points behind the second-ranked pair.

Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin headline the ice dance. They’re ranked second in the world behind Americans Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, who clinched their Grand Prix Final spot three weeks ago.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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