Favorites Klaebo, Nilsson handle pressure, win Olympic gold
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Being the best sometimes just makes the pressure even greater.
That was true for both Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo and Stina Nilsson, who came into the Pyeongchang Olympics as the favorites in the cross-country skiing sprints.
They seem to have handled it just fine, though, and they both have a gold medal to prove it.
"It will be great to have a good night sleep," Klaebo said with a laugh. "Now I can sleep with a big smile on my mouth."
Sleep is something the Norwegian said he was struggling with ahead of Tuesday's race. But he leaned on his family for help, and it worked like a charm.
"It's been a lot of pressure and I had good help from my mom and dad to try to focus on what we were going to do," Klaebo said. "To be able to win today and deal with pressure, it's a big victory in both ways."
Frederico Pellegrino of Italy edged Russian rival Alexander Bolshunov in a photo finish to take silver. Bolshunov picked up the bronze.
"Klaebo was just too young and too strong for me," said Pellegrino, who credited eating Italian food the night before at team's Casa Italia for his medal-winning performance.
Nilsson also felt the stress, turning off her social media accounts and staying off the internet as the Winter Games approached.
"It wasn't so much the last couple weeks because I wasn't on the internet and wasn't on Instagram," the Swede said. "The most pressure came from myself — that is the pressure I had to deal with. But today I managed to control those feelings and just ski as fast as I can."
Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway, who won gold four years ago at the Sochi Games, had to settle for silver. Russian athlete Yulia Belorukova took bronze.
Jessica Diggins came up short in her quest to become the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing. She finished in sixth place, more than 11 seconds behind Nilsson.
"It's a huge step forward for me just to make finals," Diggins said. "If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that I would make the Olympic classic sprint final I would have been like, 'Ha, that's funny. Good joke!'"
Diggins said she didn't recover fast enough from her previous race, having rested less than 30 minutes from the second semifinal to the final.
"For sure I was crumbling a little bit on that last monster climb and really working hard to keep it together and keep it upright," Diggins said. "But I'm really proud of this race."
The Americans have not won a medal in cross-country skiing since Bill Koch earned silver at the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics, but Diggins still thinks there's a chance for one in Pyeongchang.
"Well yeah," she said. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't think that."