By winning the world title Sunday in the team sprint at the world championships, Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins gave the United States its first gold medal ever in cross-country skiing at either the worlds or Olympics.
A few hours later, four Nordic combined skiers finished third in the team event, the first U.S. medal in the 17 times that has been contested at worlds.
Randall, 31, of Anchorage, and Diggins, 21 of Afton, Minn., were third beginning the final loop but both finished strong in the freestyle technique race to beat runner-up Sweden by nearly eight seconds. Randall came to the line in Val di Fiemme, Italy far enough ahead to enjoy the moment fully, even if she soon collapsed from exhaustion.
"That was so incredible, just seeing that clean snow in front of me," Randall told reporters after the race. "I tried to be stoic and stand up for a while but my legs were pretty dead. That moment when your teammate comes running out and it starts to sink in you are world champion, it's incredible."
Each athlete skied three 1.2 kilometer laps in the race.
Earlier this season, Randall and Diggins had become the first U.S. cross-country skiers to win a team race in a World Cup competition.
"This is my seventh world championshipos, and I have had to spend a lot of time watching awards ceremonies (for other people)," Randall said.
Randall actually is the most decorated cross-country skier in U.S. history, having won a silver medal in frreestyle sprint at the 2009 worlds as well as 19 World Cup medals, all but two in sprint events. All eight of her World Cup golds are in sprint races.
"Any time you are sprinting with the best sprinter in the world. . .I knew if I could get her in a good position she would be able to hold it and improve upon it," Diggins said of Randall.
For Randall the question once again is whether she can follow a strong world championship performance in freestyle with one in a classic style race at the next year's Olympics.
That did not happen at Vancouver in 2010, as Randall took eighth in the individual sprint, skied classic style. She took 19th in the classic individual sprint race at these worlds last week.
At the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the team sprint will be classic and the individual sprint, freestyle. All 17 of Randall's World Cup sprint medals have come in freestyle races.
The Nordic combined team of Bill Demong, Todd Lodwick and the Fletcher brothers, Bryan and Taylor, were fifth after the jumping phase of the competition and fourth going into the final leg of cross-country skiing. Demong made up nearly nine seconds on the anchor to overtake Japan for the bronze.
They wound up 3.8 seconds behind silver-medal Norway and 4.2 behind the winning French team.
Both Demong and Lodwick also were part of the U.S. team that took silver at the 2010 Olympics.
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