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Sadie Maubet Bjornsen becomes first U.S. cross-country skier to lead women’s World Cup

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For the first time, the world’s top-ranked female cross-country skier is an American.

Sadie Maubet Bjornsen claimed the yellow bib awarded to the World Cup overall standings leader by placing third and fourth in the opening races of the season in Finland the last two days.

No American woman previously led the standings at any point in a World Cup season, according to U.S. Ski & Snowboard. Bill Koch won the men’s title in 1982.

Maubet Bjornsen, a two-time Olympian who got married in July, finished third in a classic sprint (by one hundredth of a second) on Friday. Then she was fourth in a 10km classic race on Saturday, missing the podium by 1.3 seconds.

She earned 83 World Cup points for those results, eight better than Russian Natalya Nepryaeva, last season’s No. 2 skier in the overall standings. There are still more than 30 races left this season, which runs through March. Maubet Bjornsen is better at classic races, and seven of the next eight races are freestyle.

Maubet Bjornsen was 14th in last season’s standings, 1,069 points behind champion Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg of Norway. Four different Norwegians combined to win the last six World Cup overall titles.

Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins, who teamed to win the U.S.’ first Olympic cross-country title in PyeongChang, are the only American women to finish a season in the top three of the standings. Randall was third in 2013; Diggins second in 2018.

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Beach volleyball player’s dog becomes social media sensation

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Norwegian beach volleyball player Mathias Berntsen‘s dog, Kiara, captivated social media this weekend.

A video of Kiara peppering with Berntsen and a pair across the net on a grass field spread from Berntsen’s Instagram across platforms. Kiara now has 12,000 Instagram followers, more than twice the total of Berntsen.

Berntsen, 24, is one half of Norway’s second-best beach volleyball team.

He and partner Hendrik Mol are ranked 45th in the world and well outside the Tokyo Olympic picture (24 teams go to the Games), but could get in the mix depending on how qualification is amended once sports resume.

Berntsen and his cousin Mol are part of a group called the Beach Volley Vikings. Mol’s younger brother, Anders, and family friend Christian Sorum are the world’s top-ranked team (profiled here).

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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