Jessie Diggins

Chris Corning
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Takeaways from the abbreviated 2019-20 season in ski and snowboard sports

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Most ski sports don’t hold world championships in even-numbered years, but the coronavirus pandemic brought World Cup campaigns to an early conclusion two years ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

With the seasons over, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team is collecting goggles to provide to health-care workers.

Here’s what we learned in various sports:

ALPINE: Mikaela Shiffrin has company 

The U.S. ski star was on pace to win her fourth straight World Cup season trophy before her father’s sudden passing in early February. She planned to return in March with an outside chance at keeping her title, but the remaining races of the season were canceled. Italy’s Federica Brignone took the trophy, with Shiffrin second.

While Shiffrin held a substantial lead in the World Cup before her hiatus, she wasn’t as unbeatable as she was in the 2018-19 season, when she won a staggering 17 times. That’s an impossible bar to clear, but Shiffrin’s rivals made up enough ground to make future World Cup season titles and the career win record seem less certain than they seemed a year ago.

In Shiffrin’s final slalom race, a discipline in which she has rarely lost in recent years, she placed third behind Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova and Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson. Ten days before that, she was second to Vlhova, whose progress impressed Shiffrin. That marked that first time since 2014 that she lost two straight slaloms in the same season. (She was second in the 2016-17 season finale and second again in the 2017-18 season opener, then won 12 of the next 13 slaloms.)

Shiffrin’s ability to get on the podium in any race, no matter the discipline, will make her the World Cup favorite for years to come. But the big prize won’t be as easy as she has made it seem in recent years, and at 66 career victories, she’ll need time to catch Lindsey Vonn‘s women’s record of 82 wins and Ingemar Stenmark‘s overall record of 86.

CROSS-COUNTRY: Diggins, Bjornsen stay in world’s elite 

Jessie Diggins will forever be remembered for winning the 2018 Olympic team sprint with Kikkan Randall as NBC’s Chad Salmela screamed “HERE COMES DIGGINS,” but she also has a strong World Cup resume that she continues to build.

Diggins finished sixth in the season standings for the second straight year, a drop from her second-place finish in 2018 but still comfortably in the top 10. She was joined there by Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, who eighth-place season put her in the top 10 for the second time.

Bjornsen led the three-stage season opener in Ruka, Finland, after taking third in the sprint and finished fourth overall, one place ahead of Diggins, who took third in the pursuit. Diggins added four more podium finishes before the end of the season.

NORDIC COMBINED: Norway takes control 

Jarl Magnus Riiber won his second straight World Cup title at age 22, with fellow Norwegian Joergen Graabak taking a career-high second. Two more Norwegians were in the top six Jens Luraas Oftebro (fourth) and Espen Bjoernstad (sixth). 

In women’s Nordic combined, which is on track to become an Olympic event, U.S. athlete Tara Geraghty-Moats was a close second to Russia’s Stefaniya Nadymova.

READ: Geraghty-Moats has eyes on 2026

SKI JUMPING: U.S. women shut out 

A decade after leading the charge to get women’s ski jumping in the Olympics and eight years after teenager Sarah Hendrickson won the World Cup, the U.S. women went a whole season without an athlete picking up World Cup points. Hendrickson postponed her retirement but competed only on the Continental Cup this season.

U.S. women also won two of the first three ski jumping world championships Lindsey Van in 2009 and Hendrickson in 2013.

In men’s jumping, Austria’s Stefan Kraft edged out Germany’s Karl Geiger to reclaim the World Cup title he last held in 2017. Geiger’s previous career best was 10th in 2019. Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi, last year’s champion, took third.

FREESTYLE SKIING: Blunck keeps flying

U.S. halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck followed up his second straight world championship in 2019 with his first World Cup season title. Blunck won both events in the U.S. — December’s competition at Copper Mountain and February’s event at Mammoth Mountain. 

Colby Stevenson (slopestyle) and Alexander Hall (big air) were second in their events. Hall won twice, landing a switch left double 1800 to win in the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park. Stevenson also won at the X Games in Aspen.

In women’s competition, 18-year-old Marin Hamill was second in slopestyle, and Jaelin Kauf finished in the top three for the third straight year.

French skier Perrine Laffont had a dominant season in women’s moguls, winning all six regular moguls events and two of four dual moguls, to take her second straight World Cup title.

SNOWBOARDING: Corning wins in Atlanta and in World Cup

Atlanta’s SunTrust Park hosted a World Cup big air competition, with Chris Corning and Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi winning. Corning also won in Cardrona, New Zealand, and took his second big air season title to go along with slopestyle titles in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Dusty Henricksen was third in World Cup slopestyle on the strength of a win at Mammoth Mountain, followed by fellow U.S. teen Justus Henkes.

U.S. women’s snowboarders Jamie Anderson and Julia Marino won the only World Cup slopestyle events each one entered. Anderson also won the X Games slopestyle.

Olympic and world halfpipe champion Chloe Kim sat out the season after breaking an ankle in March 2019 and enrolling at Princeton.

BIATHLON: Never count out Dunklee 

Susan Dunklee hasn’t had great success on the World Cup circuit since taking a world championship silver medal in 2017, when she finished a career-best 10th in the World Cup, but she once again took world championship silver in the sprint at Antholz.

Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe won the men’s World Cup title despite missing two weeks after the birth of his first child, edging Frenchman Martin Fourcade by two points to spoil the seven-time World Cup champion’s final season.

Boe won his second straight World Cup title, as did Italy’s Dorothea Weirer in the women’s competition.

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Therese Johaug ties her own cross-country win record in Tour de Ski

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Norway’s Therese Johaug won the 10k freestyle race Tuesday in Toblach, Italy, tying her own record for consecutive cross-country World Cup distance wins and taking the overall lead in the Tour de Ski.

U.S. skiers Jessie Diggins remained in second place in the points standings, a separate category from the overall time-based standings that Johaug leads. Diggins finished seventh, followed by teammates Sadie Maubet Bjornsen and Rosie Brennan in eighth and ninth. Diggins, who finished fourth in Sunday’s freestyle sprint, is just two points behind leader Anamarija Lampic of Slovenia and six points ahead of Johaug, who has won both distance races but earned no points in the sprint.

In the overall standings, Diggins stands ninth after three stages, 1:10 behind Johaug and 48 seconds behind Heidi Weng, who holds the last spot on the podium. Diggins finished third in both the overall and the points standings in the 2017-18 Tour.

Maubet Bjornsen, who briefly led the World Cup earlier this season, is one place behind Diggins in the overall standings. Brennan is 13th. In the points competition, which was called the sprint competition in previous years and is the rough equivalent of the Tour de France’s green jersey, Maubet Bjornsen is seventh, with Sophie Caldwell 12th.

Johaug left the start house 38th in the interval-start race and had the advantage of seeing the time posted by teammate Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg, who held the lead with a time of 23:52.6. Johaug crossed the line 0.7 seconds ahead of Oestberg’s time. Diggins and Maubet Bjornsen, who started behind Johaug, were 35.6 seconds and 42.9 seconds back. Brennan, who had an earlier start, finished 45.0 seconds behind the winner.

The men’s 15k race saw a Russian sweep, led by Sergey Ustiugov, who won four individual medals at the 2017 world championships but was not allowed to compete in the 2018 Olympics. He also leads the overall standings. Norway’s Johannes Hosflot Klaebo leads the points race.

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Jessie Diggins aims for another Tour de Ski podium

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The traditional Nordic New Year events kick off Saturday with Jessie Diggins, currently third in the World Cup cross-country standings, chasing a repeat of her 2017-18 podium finish.

Ski jumping also takes the holiday spotlight with the Four Hills championships. Sweeping all four jumps was an elusive feat for 65 years, with only Germany’s Sven Hannawald taking the quartet of wins in 2001-02, but it’s happened each of the last two years. Poland’s Kamil Stoch swept in 2017-18, followed by Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi last year.  

The U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team Twitter account set off a round of head-scratching Thursday when it listed Julia Mancuso among the Tour de Ski competitors. Seeing a four-time Olympic Alpine skiing medalist return from retirement in a completely different skiing discipline would’ve been quite a story, but the same account later confirmed that the skier in question was Julia Kern, not Mancuso.

The Tour de Ski keeps skiers busy through the first week of 2020, with seven races in nine days.

  • Saturday (Lenzerheide, Switzerland): Freestyle mass start, 15k men/10k women
  • Sunday (Lenzerheide): Freestyle sprint
  • Tuesday (Toblach, Italy): Freestyle interval start, 15k men/10k women
  • Wednesday (Toblach): Classical pursuit, 15k men/10k women (start order determined by previous day’s freestyle race)
  • Friday (Val di Fiemme, Italy): Classical mass start, 15k men/10k women
  • Jan. 4 (Val di Fiemme): Classical sprint
  • Jan. 5 (Val di Fiemme): Freestyle mass start “final climb” — a total of 9k, with the last 3,500 meters up an Alpine skiing course. 

The start order for the classical pursuit and the mass start format for the final climb are changes from last year’s event.

Diggins is well-rounded and therefore well-suited to the multistage event. She ranks third in the distance standings this season and took silver in the 10k freestyle in the 2015 world championships, but she’s best known for her sprint success winning gold in the 2018 Olympic team sprint and the 2013 world championships, each time with Kikkan Randall. She also took silver in the individual sprint final and bronze in the team sprint in the 2017 world championships, this time with Sadie Bjornsen.

Bjornsen is another contender in the Tour, ranking fourth in the overall standings so far this season. Therese Johaug has a big lead overall, followed by fellow Norwegian Heidi Weng and Diggins.

Simi Hamilton is the top-ranked U.S. men’s skier heading into the Tour, sitting 28th overall and 12th in the sprint standings.

In ski jumping, Kobayashi is still the man to beat, winning last season’s World Cup along with his Four Hills sweep. He leads this year’s standings with two wins in the last three events.

NBC Sports Gold will have all events live. The Tour de Ski is also available on the Olympic Channel.

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