Stina Nilsson, Olympic champion cross-country skier, changes sports

Stina Nilsson
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Sweden’s Stina Nilsson is switching from cross-country skiing to biathlon, two years after winning four skiing medals, including gold, at the PyeongChang Olympics.

“My basic idea was to run cross-country skiing for another Olympics and then change after the season 2022,” Nilsson said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “But because of my injury [season-ending fractured rib in late December] I have been given a lot of time to think and test shoot and I feel that I really do not want to wait any longer.”

Nilsson, 26, is arguably the world’s fastest female cross-country skier. She won the PyeongChang Olympic sprint (classic format) and took silver in the 2019 World Championships sprint (freestyle).

Her PyeongChang title came by a margin of 3.03 seconds in a three-minute race, the biggest rout in an Olympic men’s or women’s sprint final since the event debuted in 2002. Eight days later, American Jessie Diggins held off Nilsson in the final kick of the team sprint (freestyle) to earn the U.S.’ first Olympic cross-country skiing title.

The most famous athlete to succeed in both cross-country skiing and biathlon was Norwegian Ole Einar Bjørndalen, whose 13 Olympic biathlon medals make him the second-most decorated Winter Olympian in history. Bjørndalen also won a World Cup cross-country race and finished fifth in the 2002 Olympic 30km event.

“I am humbled by the biathlon challenges, where I believe that the routine of the rifle and learning all about the weapon, such as when and how to screw, will be the biggest challenge,” Nilsson said, according to FIS, “but they are a challenge I look forward to.”

Sweden is strong in both biathlon and cross-country skiing. It took PyeongChang Olympic silver in the relay, anchored by individual gold medalist Hanna Öberg. The Swedes dropped to fifth in the relay at this season’s worlds.

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Valencia Marathon produces historic times in men’s, women’s races

2022 Valencia Marathon
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Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum and Ethiopian Amane Beriso won the Valencia Marathon and became the third-fastest man and woman in history, respectively.

Kiptum, a 23-year-old in his marathon debut, won the men’s race in 2 hours, 1 minute, 53 seconds. The only men to ever run faster over 26.2 miles are legends: Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge (2:01:09 world record, plus a 2:01:39) and Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele (2:01:41).

Kipchoge made his marathon debut at age 28, and Bekele at 31.

Beriso, a 31-year-old whose personal best was 2:20:48 from January 2016, stunned the women’s field Sunday by running 2:14:58. The only women to have run faster: Kenyans Brigid Kosgei (2:14:04) and Ruth Chepngetich (2:14:18).

Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey finished second in 2:16:49, the fastest-ever time for a woman in her marathon debut. Gidey is the world record holder at 5000m and 10,000m.

Valencia is arguably the top annual marathon outside of the six World Marathon Majors. The next major marathon is Tokyo on March 5.

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Aleksander Aamodt Kilde wins Beaver Creek downhill

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde won his second straight World Cup downhill race to start the season, despite feeling under the weather.

Although dealing with an illness all week in training, Kilde powered through the challenging Birds of Prey course Saturday in a time of 1 minute, 42.09 seconds. It was enough to hold off Marco Odermatt of Switzerland by 0.06 seconds. James Crawford of Canada was third to earn his second career World Cup podium finish.

Kilde also won the opening downhill last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta.

“It’s been a tough week,” Kilde said after the race. “I caught the flu in Lake Louise after a very, very nice weekend. It really hit me hard. Then I got a couple of days to rest and take it easy. … I felt OK. Still feeling it a little bit in my system.”

The Beaver Creek crew members had the course in solid shape a day after a downhill race was canceled due to high wind and snowfall.

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Kilde reached speeds around 75 mph in picking up his eighth World Cup downhill victory. That tied him with Kjetil Jansrud for the third-most downhill wins in the World Cup discipline among Norwegian men. The total trails only Aksel Lund Svindal (14) and Lasse Kjus (10).

“I found a really, really good set-up with my equipment and also with my skiing,” Kilde explained. “I believe in myself. I trust in myself. I have a good game plan. When I stand on the start, I don’t dwell on anything. I know that this plan is what I do and when I do that it’s going to be fast.”

Odermatt has been on the podium in all four World Cup races this season as he tries to defend his overall World Cup title. The 25-year-old finished third in the opening downhill of the season last weekend. He’s also won a giant slalom race and a super-G.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle wound up in seventh place for the top American finish. He was ninth in the downhill in Lake Louise.

“It’s been solid,” Cochran-Siegle said of his strides in the discipline. “A couple of little things here and there that pushed me off that top three. You have to ski with a lot of intensity and ski without abandon, in a sense. Today was a good step.”

Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who won the Olympic downhill gold medal at the Beijing Games last February, tied for ninth.

The Beaver Creek stop on the circuit comes to a close Sunday with a super-G race. Odermatt will be the favorite after holding off Kilde in the opening super-G last weekend.

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