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Diggins finishes third at opening stop of Tour de Ski

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Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins notched her first World Cup podium finish of the 2018-19 season, placing third in a freestyle sprint in Toblach, Italy. Sadie Bjornsen, who was the fastest woman in qualification, placed sixth.

The race marked the opening event of the Tour de Ski, an annual cross-country skiing competition where athletes race seven times in three countries over nine days. In addition to earning World Cup points at each stop, athletes also compete for the overall Tour de Ski title, which comes with 400 additional World Cup points.

Sweden claimed the top two spots on the women’s sprint podium, with Stina Nilsson finishing well ahead of the rest of the field and Ida Indemarsdotter placing second. Full results are here.

In a post-race interview, Nilsson reiterated her plan to only compete at the first four stops of the Tour de Ski. A number of top international athletes are not participating in the grueling multi-stage competition at all, including current women’s World Cup leader Therese Johaug of Norway. The 2019 World Championships, the most important cross-country skiing competition in a non-Olympic year, begin on February 20 in Austria.

On the men’s side, Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo finished first in the sprint, while France’s Richard Jouve and Lucas Chanavat placed second and third, respectively.

The Tour de Ski continues in Toblach tomorrow with the women’s 10km and men’s 15km freestyle races.

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Jessie Diggins’ Tour de Ski history; Kikkan Randall’s 5th Olympics

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The U.S. cross-country team that has made so much history the last few years just made some more.

Jessie Diggins became the first American to finish the Tour de Ski on the podium on Sunday, third overall in the 12th annual edition of the World Cup stage race.

The U.S. Olympic cross-country team also grew with the conclusion of the Tour de Ski. Diggins, Sadie Bjornsen and Sophie Caldwell previously qualified for PyeongChang.

Now they’re joined by Kikkan Randall, a 35-year-old mom going to her fifth Olympics, and Liz Stephen and Rosie Brennan. And Sadie’s brother, Erik.

No U.S. woman has competed in five Winter Games, but Randall, snowboarder Kelly Clark and Alpine skier Julia Mancuso can do so next month.

A full list of U.S. athletes qualified for the Olympics across all sports is here.

The Tour de Ski is akin to the Tour de France, though it’s only a week long. It’s a test of all-around skiing with sprint and distance races in both classical and freestyle technique.

Diggins, 26, overcame a 10-second deficit to Finland’s Krista Parmakoski in the pursuit Sunday to grab the last podium spot.

Norway’s Heidi Weng overtook countrywoman Ingvild Flugstad Østberg to win the Tour de Ski for a second straight year.

Diggins capped a consistently strong Tour de Ski. She finished third, fourth, fifth and seventh among the first six stages leading into Sunday’s finale.

Diggins and Stephen shared the previous best overall Tour de Ski finish for an American — fifth.

Add this to Diggins’ groundbreaking accomplishments.

In 2013, she and Randall won the first U.S. world title (team sprint).

Last year, Diggins added two more medals to give her four total and become the most decorated American in world championships history.

Diggins is one of four U.S. women with a World Cup podium this season, along with Randall, Bjornsen and Caldwell.

They’re all seeking the second U.S. Olympic cross-country skiing medal in PyeongChang, 42 years after Bill Koch‘s 30km silver in Innsbruck.

Randall, the trailblazer for U.S. cross-country in the mid-2000s, took a break after Sochi to have son Breck in April 2016. She returned last season and won sprint bronze at worlds.

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Stina Nilsson wins opening World Cup cross-country sprint

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RUKA, Finland (AP) Swedish skier Stina Nilsson won a women’s sprint race as the cross-country World Cup opened for its Olympic season on Friday.

Nilsson won the women’s classical event by 0.24 seconds from Sadie Bjornsen of the United States. Yulia Belorukova of Russia was third, 0.91 seconds off the pace.

Nilsson continued her strong form after winning the last three World Cup sprints last season.

“I had a really good feeling,” she said.

Russia entered three men’s and women’s skiers who have been banned by the International Olympic Committee for their part in a Russian doping scheme at the 2014 Olympics. The IOC bans don’t affect non-Olympic events.

Belorukova hasn’t faced any IOC sanctions.

MORE: Russian skiers banned from Olympics, World Cup OK