Stina Nilsson

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

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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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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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