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

Therese Johaug
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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

Jessie Diggins
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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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