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Norway’s Oestberg wins first Tour de Ski; U.S.’ Diggins finishes off podium

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Watching the cross-country athletes compete in the seventh and final stage of the 2018-19 Tour de Ski, dubbed the Final Climb, is a bit like watching the film “Titanic.” Everyone knows the misery which awaits each skier before they cross the finish line.

The grueling race which culminates in a 3.5km uphill climb, punishes skiers by putting their fitness to the ultimate test.

Entering the final race, Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg held a commanding lead over the rest of the field, but could she perform on Alpe Cermis, a hill which has beaten her up in the past?

“It’s maybe the toughest race of the year,” Oestberg said before the start of the race.  “It’s tough to prepare [for this race] because it’s about preparing for pain and how to deal with the pain.”

However, Oestberg was prepared for the pain, and she cemented her victory with a time of 35 minutes, 15 seconds in the Final Climb to win her first Tour de Ski of her career.

Russia’s Natalia Nepryaeva finished second overall for the fourth-consecutive season, while Finland’s Krista Parmakoski rounded out the podium in third. Parmakoski was able to make the final podium despite never having finished better than fourth in any of the first six stages of the Tour de Ski. Parmakoski finished third in the Final Climb. Full results are here.

Last season, Jessie Diggins became the first U.S. skier to make a final Tour de Ski podium when she finished third overall. Her attempt to make a return appearance on this year’s podium fell short, despite three third place finishes over the course of the seven-race event.

Diggins finished sixth in the Final Climb and sixth overall in the final Tour de Ski standings.

On the men’s side, three-time 2018 Olympic champion, 22-year-old Norwegian Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, became the youngest athlete to win the Tour de Ski. Klaebo finished the men’s Final Climb in first with a time of 32 minutes, 51.3 seconds. Klaebo’s time was good enough to hold off two Russians for the top prize. Alexander Bolshunov and Sergey Ustiugov finished second and third in the final Tour de Ski standings.

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Cyclist in induced coma after Tour of Poland crash

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Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was put into an induced coma Wednesday after suffering injuries in a crash on the final stretch of the Tour of Poland, organizers said.

A massive crash at the finish of the first stage resulted in Dylan Groenewegen‘s disqualification from the race.

Leading a bunch sprint, Groenewegen veered toward the right barrier, pinching countryman Jakobsen, who barreled into the barrier meters from the finish line.

Jakobsen went head over heels, his bike went airborne and the barriers exploded onto the road, causing more cyclists to crash.

Jakobsen was airlifted to a hospital in serious condition and was put into an induced coma, the Tour de Pologne press office said.

Doctor Pawel Gruenpeter of the hospital in Sosnowiec said Jakobsen suffered injuries to the head and chest but that his condition was stable at the intensive care unit. Jakobsen will need surgery to his face and skull, Gruenpeter told state broadcaster TVP Sport.

Groenewegen crossed the finish line first but was disqualified, giving Jakobsen the stage win, according to the stage race website.

Groenewegen, a 27-year-old Jumbo-Visma rider, owns four Tour de France stage wins among the last three years.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) “strongly condemned” Groenewegen’s “dangerous” and “unacceptable” behavior. It referred Groenewegen’s actions to a disciplinary commission for possible sanctions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

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