Canada's Alex Harvey, Kershaw miss podium at Nordic ski worlds
Canadians beat by 0.03 seconds
Alexei Petukhov and Nikita Kriukov of Russia beat Sweden's Marcus Hellner and Emil Joensson by 0.4 seconds to win the men's team sprint at the Nordic World Ski Championships on Sunday in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
Kazakhstan duo Nikolay Chebotko and Alexey Poltoranin won a photo finish for bronze at the 6x1.5-kilometre event, edging out Canadian defending champions Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey by 0.03 seconds.
"We were fourth at the Olympics, and now fourth here at World Championships and that is hard to take," said the 30-year-old Kershaw, who skied the opening leg of the skate-ski sprint with the 24-year-old Harvey taking the anchor position. Athletes ski three loops each, tagging their teammate after each leg.
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 on Thursday — to clinch the result.
Poltoranin secured bronze with a perfectly-timed plunge to place his boot ahead of Harvey.
"I tried to make a move on that final climb, and I had it, but I just wasn't aggressive enough," said Harvey, who hails from St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que. "I should have moved in front of Kriukov. We wanted a podium today and didn't get it. That is disappointing."
Norway surprisingly failed to qualify for the final after Paal Golberg and Petter Northug finished sixth in the semifinals.
US claims 1st gold
In the women's, Kikkan Randall and Jessica Diggins gave the United States its first ever world championship gold in cross-country skiing by winning the 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-kilometre 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 favourites, finished fourth after Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg fell.
It was the second American gold at these Nordic skiing worlds after Sarah Hendrickson's triumph in the women's ski jump. Randall became the first American woman to win a cross-country medal at the worlds in 2009 when she claimed 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 penultimate 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."