U.S. women skiers put two in top 15; Bjornsen 31st, Brooks 47th

Anchorage Daily NewsFebruary 8, 2014 

The American women made a statement in the first cross-country ski race at the Winter Olympics.
 
Jessie Diggins of Minnesota and Liz Stephen of Vermont finished in the top 12 of the 15-kilometer skiathlon, the first time in history the United States landed two women in the top 15 in a Olympics race.
 
Anchorage skiers Sadie Bjornsen and Holly Brooks finished 31st and 47th, respectively, in the field of 61 in Sochi, Russia.
 
Anchorage's Kikkan Randall, the star of the American team, did not race. She is preparing for Tuesday's freestyle sprint, her speciality.
 
The showing by Diggins and Stephen was a good sign for the U.S. women's team, which has never won an Olympic medal. The Americans have developed into a power in recent years -- a surge led by Randall -- and have high hopes for claiming a spot on the medals stand.
 
Norway's Marit Bjoergen claimed gold in 38 minutes, 33.6 seconds. Silver went to Sweden's Charlotte Kalla (38:35.4) and bronze went to Norway's Heidi Weng (38:40.8).
 
Diggins claimed eighth place in 40:07.2, and Stephen was 12th in 40:09.6. Bjornsen clocked 41:09.7 and Brooks 42:34.
 
Bjornsen was the top American in the classic leg of the race, which featured 7.5 kilometers of classic skiing followed by 7.5 kilometers of skate skiing. She was in 22nd place when skiers switched techniques at the halfway point.
 
For the Americans, the results could help decide who skis in next week's mixed-technique relay race, where they have a legitimate chance to win a medal. The United States has won just one cross-country medal in Olympic history -- Bill Koch's silver in 1976.
 
Randall is almost a given to ski one leg in the relay, leaving three spots open. The other three spots are up for grabs.
 
"The thing I've been looking forward to so much for years is the 4x5 relay," Diggins, 22, told NBC after the race.
 
"I'm desperately hoping for a spot on the team, and I think that that's really a big chance for us to break history and to do it the way we train and the way we live -- as a team."
 
Bjoergen, 33, won three gold medals, one silver and one bronze four years ago in Vancouver. Saturday's victory made her the oldest woman to claim gold in an Olympic cross-country race.
 
It was an emotional day for the close-knit Norwegian team. A day earlier, the brother of team member Astrid Jacobsen died unexpectedly. Bjoergen and Weng were in tears on the podium, according to news reports.

 

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