US wins historic gold medal at Nordic Worlds

The winner Jessica Diggins, right, and teammate Kikkan Randall of the United States celebrate after finishing the Ladies 6x1.2 km Free Team Sprint at the Nordic Ski World Championships in Val di Fiemme,Italy, Sunday Feb.24,2013.(AP Photo/Armando Trovati)

VAL DI FIEMME, Italy (AP) — Kikkan Randall and Jessica Diggins gave the United States its first world championship gold medal in cross-country skiing Sunday by winning the women's team sprint by nearly eight seconds.

After Diggins opened up a small lead on her last leg, Randall anchored the American duo to the victory with a scorching final lap to pull away from the Swedish and Finnish teams.

The U.S. pair finished the 6x1.2-kilometer event in 20 minutes, 24.4 seconds, beating Swedish defending champions Charlotte Kalla and Ida Ingemarsdotter by 7.8 seconds. Finland's Riika Sarasoja-Lilja and Krista Lahteenmaki were third, 10.9 seconds behind the Americans.

"It feels incredible," Randall said. "This is something we've looked forward to for a long time. It's my seventh world championship and I've had to spend a lot of time watching award ceremonies, so we're pretty excited to do it, and in a team event especially, and to finally get us on the podium.

"That moment when your teammate comes running out (in the finish area), it starts to sink in that you're world champion."

Norway, one of the pre-race favorites, finished fourth after Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg fell.

It was the second American gold at these Nordic skiing worlds after Sarah Hendrickson's victory in the women's ski jump. Randall became the first American woman to win a cross-country medal at worlds in 2009 when she took silver in the individual sprint.

Randall is known as one of the top sprinters on the circuit, with seven individual World Cup victories in the discipline, to go with one win in the team event — also with Diggins in Quebec in December.

"I'm sprinting with the best sprinter in the world," Diggins said. "I knew that if I could get her to take off in a good position, she'd be able to hold it and improve upon it. So I just tried to get her in the best spot I could."

Diggins made her break on the second-to-last leg, attacking on the steepest climb of the track. The 21-year-old pushed so hard she even broke a pole near the top, but her coach was on hand to rush and give her a replacement.

At the final change-over, Diggins was 1.4 seconds ahead of Kalla — and Randall then extended the lead with the fastest lap of any skier in the final.

"I started crying when I realized my mom and dad were watching on TV," Diggins said. "It started to sink in, and we've been training so long for this. It means a lot for the whole team because it takes an entire team to make a race like this come together. Hopefully, it'll inspire some young skiers in the U.S. to go after it and stick with the sport."

In the men's 6x1.5-kilometer event, Alexei Petukhov and Nikita Kriukov of Russia beat Sweden's Marcus Hellner and Emil Joensson by 0.4 seconds to win in 21:30.9.

Kazakhstan duo Nikolay Chebotko and Alexey Poltoranin won a photo finish for bronze, edging out defending champions Canada by 0.03 seconds.

A strong climb by Petukhov on his final lap gave Russia the lead at the final exchange, leaving Olympic champion Kriukov — who won the individual sprint Thursday — to wrap up the victory.

Poltoranin clinched bronze with a perfectly timed plunge to place his boot ahead of Alex Harvey's.