Nordic

Silver and Bronze to Open World Champs

by
Tom Kelly
2017-02-23 12:13
 

LAHTI, Finland (Feb. 23, 2017) - American cross country skiing took another giant step forward Thursday night in Lahti, as the USA took two medals in a single race for the second straight World Championships. Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) won silver with teammate Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) taking bronze in the opening freestyle sprint at the 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships.

Norway's Maikken Caspersen Falla, the sprint gold medalist from Sochi, won gold. Italy's Federico Pellegrino took gold for the men.

It was a night of gritty performances for the U.S. women, especially Randall who survived scares in both the quarterfinals and semifinals. Despite a slightly slower qualifying than anticipated, the U.S. women packed three of four starters into the six-women final including Diggins, Randall and Sophie Caldwell (Peru, VT), who finished sixth.

Diggins, who qualified 19th, set a torrid pace for the USA in the early heats - winning both quarter finals and semi finals to move into the medal round. She took her quarters by a strong 1.48 second margin, then battled for the victory in the semis against a hard charging Ida Ingemarsdotter of Sweden and Heidi Weng of Norway winning by .23.

In the opening quarterfinal, Caldwell skied a strong race against Sweden's Stina Nilsson to finish second and advance to the semifinals. Randall, who qualified 10th to lead the USA, was slotted into the second heat where she faced a torrid pace from Caspersen Falla and Hanna Falk of Sweden. Randall had been running fourth with about 400 meters to go in the 1.4k course when she made an inside move on third place Swiss Laurien van der Graaf. It was a narrow section of the course and Randall was unable to make the pass as Van der Graaf pinched her down. Randall was unable to regain the momentum and finished fourth - still in a lucky loser position after two heats. But officials ruled that van der Graaf has obstructed Randall, relegating her to last in the heat and moving Randall to third. That bump allowed Randall to advance.

In her semifinal heat, Randall skied together with Caldwell. Coming into the stadium, the two were running fourth and fifth behind Nilsson and Russia's Natalia Matveeva, but Nilsson cut down on Matveeva causing both to crash. Randall, who had been directly behind, had just moved inside to pass and was able to lead Caldwell through a gap to finish second and third with Caldwell surviving to move into the finals as a lucky loser.


Diggins fights for her medal. (Getty Images-Nils Petter Nilsson)

Going into the final with 50 percent of the field, the USA faced a challenging situation on a night where crashes and obstruction charges dictated many outcomes. "We had a great team moment with Matt (Whitcomb, coach), myself and the three women prior to the final," said Head Coach Chris Grover. "We discussed strategy and the women were adamant that they all needed to ski aggressively but also look out for each other in the final. That’s the power of the team." 

In the medal heat, Caspersen Falla set a torrid pace from the start with Sweden's Falk and Ingemarsdotter close in pursuit. Diggins handled the fast pace of the heat well, maintaining good contact and biding her time to make a move on the leaders. She maneuvered her way strategically through the field to move into a strong silver medal position coming into the home stretch. But Randall had to fight, catching Falk in the final 100 meters to take bronze.

The silver capped a solid day for Diggins as she captured the third World Championships medal of her career.

"I was really excited today -  I woke up feeling good and thought ‘why not?’," said Diggins. "We’ve all trained so hard together and I felt we had as good a shot as anyone."

It was also Diggins' third straight World Championship with a medal including her 2013 freestyle team sprint gold with Randall in 2013 at Val di Fiemme, Italy and a 10k freestyle silver at Falun, Sweden two years ago.

Randall's bronze capped a season-long comeback from a year away from the tour that started slow but gained momentum in recent weeks to win her third career World Championships medal.

"I was really impressed with Kikkan’s climb up the tunnels in both the semis and the finals," said Grover. "We saw her return to her V1 form of 2012-14 when she would make decisive moves on the steep uphills. Obviously, the key to this course is how the athlete navigates the final downhill draft and slingshot and how they negotiate the final stadium corner and maintain momentum. Kikkan’s experience and track-craft was crucial in those critical moments." 


Randall smiles on the podium. (Getty Images-Matthias Hangst)

The medal was especially poignant for Randall, who was making a return from a year off for a pregnancy. Her 10-month-old son Breck was in the crowd. 

"It was a different day of preparation for me before I went to the heats," said Randall. "After breakfast, I came home and did some laundry, put our son down for a nap, then loaded him onto the bus to the venue. During the race he was touring around with my dad. It was a different kind of day but it helped me stay calm."
 
At times this season, the possibilities seemed distant. In her first sprint in November she was 52nd in Ruka, Finland. A few weeks later in Davos, Switzerland, she was 58th. She finally qualified for the heats in Val Mustair, Switzerland during Tour de Ski in January. And in the last month, she had been regaining her form with a pair of results inside the top 10. Through it all, she kept reminding herself that the focus was World Championships.
 
"It’s very encouraging to know it’s only been 10 months and I’ve been able to come back to top form," she said. "I was able to train well through my pregnancy and it’s great to see it all come together here."
 
"We knew it would take time, and Kikkan was the first to admit that she would need to ski her way into the season by building race fitness," said Grover. "We are all so proud of her for having the steadfast patience to stick to her plan and to be mentally resilient in the face of early results that were not representative of her potential. It’s been a big load for her to be a mom on the World Cup road all winter and she’s managed it with grace and patience."
 

Diggins and Randall smile after the race. (Getty Images-Matthias Hangst)
 
Both Diggins and Randall took great pride in what they have helped to create with such a strong, deep women's team that has seen five different athletes crack World Cup or World Championship podiums this year.
 
"That’s for sure the most fun I’ve ever had in a final," said Randall. "Before we went to the start we did a team cheer. We had such a good energy between the three of us and all of our team that is supporting us. It was a really magical day for our team."

Magical, indeed. And for a team whose goal is not just to win, but to inspire, it was perfect timing.


Diggins celebrates her silver medal. (Getty Images-Nils Petter Nilsson)

"I hope this inspires people back home," said Diggins, thinking about the 10,000 skiers who will be competing in this weekend's Slumberland American Birkebeiner in northern Wisconsin. "If a girl from Minnesota who just loves to dance and wear sparkles and be silly can do it, they can do. We’re not a country historically known for cross country skiing. But we’ve created this women’s team together and worked so hard - and that teamwork really shows. We can be stronger together than we can as individuals."

The impact of two Americans in the medals on day one set the mood for the Championships. "It’s a great boost to the athletes and especially to the service team," said Grover. "This marks six years in a row where the women have been on the podium in a freestyle sprint in Lahti. It helps us set a tone for the Championships. We know people are fit enough to reach the podium on the right day and we know we can make skis here as great as any other nation." 

In the men's race, Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) led the U.S. men in 21st, with both Newell and Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) qualifying for the heats.

Friday is an off day from cross country competition, with men and women back in action for Saturday's skiathlon. Diggins is expected to be among the favorites. The U.S. women will also be among the contenders in next week's 4x5k relay. No American man or woman has ever won two medals in a single World Championships.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) took silver with Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) winning bronze in the freestyle sprint to open the 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti.
  • The Americans put three women into the six-person finals, including Diggins, Randall and Sophie Caldwell (Peru, VT). Ida Sargent (Winthrop, WA) made it to the heats, but did not qualify to the semifinals. Diggins took wins in both her quarter finals and semi finals heats.
  • It was the second straight World Championships where the U.S. women took two of three medals in a single race, matching the mark set by Diggins and Caitlin Gregg (Minneapolis) in the 10k freestyle two years ago in Falun, Sweden.
  • It was the third straight World Championships in which Diggins has won a medal.
  • The women are back in action Saturday with the skiathlon.


Randall skates to bronze. (Getty Images-Matthias Hangst)

QUOTES
Jessie Diggins
I was really excited today -  I woke up feeling good and thought ‘why not?’ We’ve all trained so hard together and I felt we had as good a shot as anyone.

I hope this inspires people back home. If a girl from Minnesota who just loves to dance and wear sparkles and be silly can do it, they can too. We’re not a country historically known for cross country skiing. But we’ve created this women’s team together and worked so hard - and that teamwork really shows. We can be stronger together than we can as individuals.

Kikkan Randall
After my first World Cup this season I wasn’t so optimistic. It was a slow start to the season and it took a lot of patience. But my shape has been building and building and I had hoped to find the best shape right here and it worked.

That’s for sure the most fun I’ve ever had in a final. Before we went to the start we did a team cheer. We had such a good energy between the three of us and all of our team that is supporting us. It was a really magical day for our team.
 
It was a different day of preparation for me before I went to the heats. After breakfast, I came home and did some laundry, put our son down for a nap, then loaded him onto the bus to the venue. During the race he was touring around with my dad. It was a different kind of day but it helped me stay calm.
 
It’s very encouraging to know it’s only been 10 months and I’ve been able to come back to top form. I was able to train well through my pregnancy and it’s great to see it all come together here.
 
Chris Grover
We had a great team moment with Matt, myself and the three women prior to the final.  We discussed strategy and the women were adamant that they all needed to ski aggressively but also look out for each other in the final. That’s the power of the Team. 
 
It’s a great boost to the athletes and the service team. This marks six years in a row where the women have been on the podium in freestyle sprint in Lahti. It helps us set a tone for the Championships. We know people are fit enough to reach the podium on the right day and we know we can make skis here as great as any other nation. 
 
I was really impressed with Kikkan’s climb up the tunnels in both the Semis and the Finals. We saw her return to her V1 form of 2012-14 when she would make decisive moves on the steep uphills. Obviously, the key to this course is how the athlete navigates the final downhill draft and slingshot and how they negotiate the final stadium corner and maintain momentum. Kikkan’s experience and track-craft was crucial in those critical moments. 
 
I think we all believed the Kikkan would be on a freestyle sprint podium this year.  We knew it would take time, and Kikkan was the first to admit that she would need to ski her way into the season by building race fitness. We are all so proud of her for having the steadfast patience to stick to her plan and to be mentally resilient in the face of early results that were not representative of her potential.  It’s been a big load for her to be a mom on the World Cup road all winter and she’s managed it with grace and patience. 
 

2017 FIS NORDIC WORLD SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS
Live Streaming and Broadcast Schedule (times EST)

Friday, Feb. 24
3:30-4:30 a.m. - Nordic combined HS100m ski jumping - LIVE STREAM
6:30-7:30 a.m. - Nordic combined 10k - LIVE STREAM
10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. - Women's HS100m ski jumping - LIVE STREAM
1:30-2:30 p.m. - Women's HS100m ski Jumping - TV: NBCSN
2:30-4:00 p.m. - Daily broadcast coverage - TV: Universal HD

Saturday, Feb. 25
5:00-7:00 a.m. - Women's skiathlon - LIVE STREAM
7:30-9:30 a.m. - Men's skiathlon - LIVE STREAM
10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. - Men's HS100m Ski jumping - LIVE STREAM
8:00-11:00 p.m. - Daily broadcast coverage - TV: Universal HD

Sunday, Feb. 26
5:00-6:00 a.m. - Nordic combined team HS100m ski jumping - LIVE STREAM
6:30-8:30 a.m. - Team classic sprint - LIVE STREAM
8:30-9:30 a.m. - Nordic combined 4x5k team event - LIVE STREAM
10:30 a.m.-12:40 p.m. - Mixed gender HS100m ski jumping team event - LIVE STREAM
9:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. - Daily broadcast coverage - TV: Universal HD

Tuesday, Feb. 28
6:45-8:45 a.m. - Women's 10k classic - LIVE STREAM|
5:30-7:00 p.m. - Women's 10k classic - TV: Universal HD

Wednesday, Mar. 1
5:00-6:00 a.m. - Nordic combined HS130m ski jumping - LIVE STREAM
6:45-8:45 a.m. - Men's 15k classic - LIVE STREAM
9:15-10:15 a.m. - Nordic combined 10k - LIVE STREAM
7:00-10:00 p.m. - Daily broadcast coverage - TV: Universal HD

Thursday, Mar. 2
8:00-10:00 a.m. - Women's 4x5k relay - LIVE STREAM
11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. - Men's HS130m ski jumping - LIVE STREAM
1:00-3:00 p.m - Daily broadcast coverage - TV: NBCSN

Friday, Mar. 3
6:30-8:30 a.m. - Men's 4x10k relay - LIVE STREAM
9:00-10:00 a.m. - Nordic combined HS130m ski jump - LIVE STREAM
11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. - Nordic combined 2x7.5k team sprint - LIVE STREAM
12:00-2:30 p.m. - Daily broadcast coverage - TV: NBCSN

Saturday, Mar. 4
7:30-9:30 a.m. - Women's 30k freestyle - LIVE STREAM
10:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. - Men's HS130m ski jumping team event - LIVE STREAM
7:30-10:30 p.m. - Daily broadcast coverage - TV: Universal HD

Sunday, Mar. 5
7:00-9:00 a.m. - Men's 50k freestyle - LIVE STREAM
1:30-3:30 p.m. - Men's 50k freestyle - TV: Universal HD

RESULTS
Men's Freestyle Sprint 
Women's Freestyle Sprint