Ger­ard wins first gold for U.S.

Jessie Dig­gins fin­ishes 5th in skiathlon, best ever for a US woman

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS -

Red Ger­ard won the first gold medal for the United States at the 2018 Win­ter Olympics in men’s slopestyle snow­board­ing.

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Jessie Dig­gins wasn’t quite fast enough to catch the his­tory she was chas­ing Satur­day. That didn’t mean she fin­ished her first race of the Pyeongchang Olympics with any dis­ap­point­ment, or with­out a mean­ing­ful achieve­ment.

Dig­gins, of Afton, Minn., led the U.S. con­tin­gent with a fifth-place fin­ish in the women’s skiathlon at Alpen­sia Cross-Coun­try Ski­ing Cen­ter. Bat­tling nerves and cramp­ing, she still recorded the high­est plac­ing of any Amer­i­can woman in his­tory in a cross­coun­try ski race at the Win­ter Games.

Swe­den’s Char­lotte Kalla used a bold move in the fi­nal two kilo­me­ters to win, with Marit Bjo­er­gen of Nor­way tak­ing sil­ver and Krista Par­makoski of Fin­land earn­ing bronze.

Kalla’s gold medal was the first awarded at the Pyeongchang Games and made her the first Swedish woman to win three Olympic cross­coun­try ti­tles. Bjo­er­gen set a record, too, with her 11th Olympic medal, the most won by any woman in cross-coun­try at the Win­ter Games.

The Amer­i­can women would be de­lighted just to win their first Olympic medal in the sport. Though Dig­gins didn’t get it done in the skiathlon, which in­cludes a 7.5-kilo­me­ter clas­sic leg and 7.5k freestyle leg, she and her team­mates have sev­eral more op­por­tu­ni­ties in Pyeongchang — and Satur­day left her feel­ing good about their chances.

“To­day was a good race for me,’’ said Dig­gins, whose time of 40 min­utes, 59.6 sec­onds was 14.7 sec­onds be­hind Kalla. “It was not my best race, which I’m re­ally happy about, be­cause I’m ready to do some more.

“I’m re­ally ex­cited. I think I’m in a good place at th­ese games. It’s re­ally cool be­ing sec­onds away from a medal and see­ing it right there. I know it’s pos­si­ble. I know I have what it takes.’’

The other Amer­i­cans didn’t fare as well. Caitlin Pat­ter­son was 34th Kikkan Ran­dall was 40th and Rosie Bren­nan was 58th. The U.S. women en­tered the Olympics shoul­der­ing heavy ex­pec­ta­tions, cre­ated by their move up the World Cup rank­ings. The great­est hopes rest with Dig­gins, third in the cir­cuit’s over­all stand­ings. She clearly felt it, though the anx­i­ety seemed to sub­side once she got go­ing.

At the half­way point of the clas­sic leg, Dig­gins was third, as close as she would get to the lead. She was try­ing to find the op­ti­mal po­si­tion on a course she la­beled as both tac­ti­cal and “a se­ri­ous grinder,’’ with a bit­ing wind com­pli­cat­ing things fur­ther. Af­ter falling back to 10th place early in the freestyle leg, she moved up steadily late in the race.

“There are a few cru­cial pinch points where you don’t want to be stuck be­hind peo­ple,’’ she said of the freestyle por­tion. “I was not in a smart po­si­tion when Char­lotte made her move. Then, when I got my body to start push­ing, it just was a lit­tle bit late.

“I re­ally was wrecked at the fin­ish. I gave it ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing I had, and I’m proud of that. So I’m walk­ing away happy.’’

Kalla seized the early lead and set a brisk pace. Bjo­er­gen moved up through a lead pack of about 20 skiers and passed Kalla on the sec­ond lap of the race. The two swapped po­si­tions sev­eral times be­fore Kalla at­tacked on the fi­nal lap, charg­ing to the front and im­me­di­ately put­ting dis­tance be­tween her and the rest of the field.

[MATTHIAS SCHRADER/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS]

Jes­sica Dig­gins of the United States re­acts af­ter the women’s 7.5km skiathlon cross-coun­try ski­ing com­pe­ti­tion at the Win­ter Olympics Satur­day in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

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