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Randall, Bjornsen help U.S. Ski Team to fourth place in world championship relay

Beth Bragg

Kikkan Randall and her American teammates made history Thursday at the Nordic World Ski Championships, although they just missed claiming a medal.

The U.S. women -- Randall, Sadie Bjornsen, Liz Stephen and Jessie Diggins -- finished fourth in the 4x5-kilometer mixed-technique relay race in Val Di Fiemme, Italy.

It was the best finish in history by a U.S. relay team at the Olympics or world championships. The previous best for a women's team was seventh place; the best for a men's team is fifth place. At the last world championships, in 2011, the U.S. women placed ninth.

"Fourth place is huge," said Bjornsen, who trains with Randall at Alaska Pacific University, said in a U.S. Ski Team press release. "We cut our finish more than in half from two years ago.

"This was my first (world championship) relay so it was fun to join this amazing crew. I was nervous, but I kept telling myself it's just a 5-K and it's my favorite race."

Norway ran away with the championship, with Sweden taking silver and Russia rallying on the final lap to claim bronze. The Americans finished 26.6 seconds behind Russia and 11.4 seconds ahead of fifth-place Finland.

Randall, a three-time Olympian from Anchorage who on Sunday teamed with Diggins to capture the gold medal in the team sprint, shouldered some of the blame for the Americans finishing out of the medals.

The United States was in sixth place after Bjornsen's scramble leg. Randall worked her way into the battle for the bronze medal at the halfway point of her leg, but couldn't keep pace and was in ninth place when she tagged off to Stephen.

"We were so strong the other day," Randall said. "Unfortunately I couldn't find the same form today. My leg put us into a difficult position."

Stephen, noted for her strength on hills, put the Americans back into contention with a strong third leg. She tagged off to Diggins in fourth place.

Diggins dropped to fifth place at one point before overtaking Finland on the final hill.

"We hoped for a medal today but fourth feels like a medal to me," Stephen said. "Everyone skied their heart out. Jessie could have easily decided that fifth was good enough. But on that last climb she decided 'I'm getting fourth,' and to me that's a medal."