U.S. women’s cross-country skiing team barely misses medal in world champs relay

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A relay medal continues to be elusive for the U.S. women’s cross-country skiing team.

Hailey Swirbul, Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, Rosie Brennan and Jessie Diggins took fourth in the world championships, missing bronze by eight tenths of a second in Oberstdorf, Germany, on Thursday.

Diggins, who famously won the final sprint of the team sprint in PyeongChang in 2018 for the U.S.’ first-ever Olympic title, was overtaken by Finnish veteran Krista Parmakoski late on anchor after skiing right in front of Parmakoski for much of the leg.

“I played the only card I had, and I knew I had to ski twice as hard as the girls that were with us, and I did my absolute damndest to drop them in the only place I thought I could, and I am really proud of that effort,” Diggins said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “It’s heartbreaking to come that close to a medal and know that fitness-wise, we are so there, and that is what is really encouraging because that is the only part that we can really control is that coming into world championships knowing that our fitness is there, our minds are there, our tactics are there, and most importantly, that we are gritty enough.”

Norway took gold by 26.6 seconds over Russia.

The U.S. was in eighth place after the 22-year-old rookie Swirbul’s first leg. The two-time Olympian Maubet Bjornsen brought the Americans back to fourth after the second classic leg.

Brennan, a 2018 Olympian who did not make the relay quartet in PyeongChang, was in third for much of the third leg before dropping to fifth at the handoff but close to Germany and Finland.

Diggins, the World Cup overall leader having a dream season on that circuit, set the pace on anchor. She put away Germany but could not drop the 30-year-old Parmakoski, who has anchored Finland to relay medals at the Olympics and worlds dating to 2011.

In 2005 at worlds in Oberstdorf, the U.S. fell behind, was about to get lapped and was pulled out of the race before the anchor leg. It was rock bottom for the program.

The following season, the U.S. Ski Team decided to name zero women to its national team, devoting the funding to the men.

Led by Kikkan Randall, the U.S. women spent the next decade-plus climbing. Randall, now retired, and Diggins reached the top in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics team sprint.

A relay medal, the true sign of a program’s depth, has yet to come. The Americans took fourth at the world championships in 2013, 2015 and 2017, and fifth at the 2018 Olympics and 2019 Worlds.

“For about six championships in a row, we knew it was possible if we had all the ducks lined up, but part of the game is getting those ducks lined up, and that is why we keep coming back and fighting,” Maubet Bjornsen said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard.

Worlds continue Friday with the men’s relay, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

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