- Associated Press
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea | As she headed up the steepest, most grueling hill of her life in third place, Jessica Diggins thought to herself just winning an Olympic medal was no longer good enough.

She wanted more. She wanted gold.

Diggins dug deep, remembering all the years of training, and of all her teammates waiting for her at the finish line to bring home the United States’ first medal ever in women’s cross-country skiing — and then she let loose.

Diggins reached the peak of the hill in third place but sped past Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla on the last big, winding downhill. She rounded the final corner and took dead aim at Sweden’s Stina Nilsson on the final 100-meter homestretch.

The crowd in the grandstand was on its feet, sensing history, and at that moment Diggins said she felt “unstoppable.”

“Around that final corner I felt like I was uncoiling a spring and letting it go,” Diggins said. “Giving it everything I had, digging as deep as I could and putting it all out there. When your team is counting on you, you don’t give up ever.”

Diggins certainly didn’t give up.

She blew by Nilsson in a blur to capture gold in the team sprint, bringing the United States its first gold medal ever in cross-country skiing.

As she crossed the line she collapsed in exhaustion as teammate Kikkan Randall tackled her in the snow. Randall lay on top of a crying Diggins shaking her ski jacket in pure excitement and utter joy.

“That feeling of being able to cross the line and have Kikkan tackle me was the coolest thing ever,” Diggins said.

It was fitting Randall was her partner on the two-woman team. She has been through all of the tough times, competing with the American cross-country ski team since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. She said it was also fitting that the American women won their first medal in a team event.

“I got to see in 2013 when we won the world championships … that team gold is worth far more than any individual accolade,” the 35-year-old Randall said. “What really kept me going over the last four years was trying to contribute toward a team medal. To do it with Jessie one more time is just amazing.”

So move over Bill Koch, you have company — finally.

Charlotte Kalla sensed the Americans were extra motivated for a medal, saying she saw it in their eyes before the race and felt it when Randall stayed on her heels on the second-to-last lap.

“Olympic champions, they are so worth it,” the Swede said. “They were amazing today. I’m really impressed with them.”

Sweden took silver and Norway finished with a bronze, which allowed Marit Bjoergen to secure her record 14th medal at the Winter Games. That broke her tie with Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen for the most medals at the Winter Olympics.

Bjoergen, who already had won gold, silver and bronze at the Pyeongchang Games, said she was happy to see the Americans win this one.

“Those two, they are happy girls,” Bjoergen said. “And I think that is important for our sport that the USA is there.”

Vonn proves mortal

Sofia Goggia refused to let Lindsey Vonn catch her. Or, anyone else.

The Italian skier won the women’s downhill Wednesday, holding off Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway by 0.09 seconds and Vonn by 0.47 seconds.

The 33-year-old Vonn will compete in the alpine combined event, along with American teammate Mikaela Shiffrin, and that will be her last race in Pyeongchang.

Medals roundup

Norway won the men’s sprint, giving the country its 13th cross-country medal at the games to tie an Olympic record, and added gold in the men’s speedskating team pursuit with a win over South Korea in the final.

Japan beat defending champion the Netherlands in an Olympic record to win the women’s team pursuit, and the U.S. women picked up bronze.

Mariama Jamanka won the women’s bobsled, giving Germany its fifth gold medal in eight sliding events so far at Pyeongchang.

Meanwhile, the Russian athletes are still sitting at zero in the gold medals column. But that number could change soon.

Teen figure skaters Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva were in first and second place, respectively, in the women’s short program after earning the highest scores ever. That leaves them both in good position to come up with gold heading into the free skate Friday.

Brady Leman of Canada won the men’s skicross, beating Marc Bischofberger of Switzerland in a wild final — after some scary elimination rounds during which a handful of crashes forced several men to leave the course on medical sleds.

Finland won the bronze in women’s hockey with a 3-2 victory over the Russian team. The gold-medal game between the United States and Canada is Thursday.

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