Russians take Olympic gold in women’s cross-country relay; US sixth

ZHANGJIAKOU, China — The Russian team took the lead at the start of the women’s relay and held on at the end to win another Olympic gold medal in cross-country skiing Saturday, with the U.S. trailing in in sixth.

Hailey Swirbul of Anchorage lost contact with the race leaders in the first 5-kilometer leg, and the three other women on the U.S. team — Rosie Brennan, Novie McCabe and Jessie Diggins — couldn’t reel the Americans back in.

“Every single one of these girls went out and skied so hard, and skied gutsy races,” said Diggins, the star of the U.S. team. “Some days that ends up in the result of your life, and some days it doesn’t.”

Russia’s Yulia Stupak broke away early in the event, with nine women chasing. On the next leg, her teammate Natalia Nepryaeva was chased down by Katharina Hennig of Germany.

The Germans were not favorites to medal, but they briefly took the lead on the last lap, with Russia’s Veronika Stepanova just behind Sofie Krehl.

[Full results]

But Stepanova pulled away on the final climb and won in 53 minutes, 41 seconds. Germany took a surprise silver, 18 seconds behind. Sweden edged Finland for bronze.


“Of course, it is a special day,” Stepanova said. “It was really tough because we have a win in the World Cup, and a lot of people know we can win, so they say, ‘You must win. You must win.’ So I am like, ‘OK, we need a good result,’ and I do what I can do.”

Tatiana Sorina skied the third lap for the Russian team, which in the wake of a doping scandal at the 2014 Olympics, is competing at the Beijing Games under the acronym ROC — short for Russian Olympic Committee.

Krehl and her teammates were jubilant at the finish, celebrating their silver medal like it was gold. German Head Coach Peter Schlickenrieder said his team had actually taken inspiration from U.S. stars like Diggins and Kikkan Randall, the retired Olympic gold medalist from Anchorage.

“What you did the last 10 years is unbelievable,” Schlickenrieder, a retired Olympic medalist, told a Daily News reporter. “Let’s start this rocket, too, in Germany.”

The relay began as a mass-start with racers from 18 countries. Each woman skied two laps on a 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) course.

The first two skiers raced in the classic style and the last two in the skating technique.

Norway, the defending champions, is missing two stalwarts who caught the coronavirus before the Games, and the team ended up in fifth place. Tiril Udnes Weng, who skied Norway’s first leg, crashed and lost some time.

Norwegian superstar Therese Johaug, who already has won two gold medals in Beijing, briefly brought the chase group closer to the leaders but couldn’t catch them.

“I tried to do the best with the position I had,” Johaug said. “I tried to reach both Sweden and Finland, but Russia and Germany, they were the strongest today.”

This story was compiled from Martha Bellisle of the Associated Press and Nathaniel Herz of the Anchorage Daily News/