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Minnesotan just misses out on first medal ever for U.S. women in cross country skiing

Team USA cross country skier Jessie Diggins of Afton, Minn., poses for a photo during the 2018 U.S. Olympic Summit last September. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea - Minnesotan Jessie Diggins was just seconds away from winning America's first ever medal in cross country skiing.

The Afton athlete finished fifth in the 15-kilometer cross-country skiathlon, just 4.6 seconds from a medal. The Minnesotan crossed the finish line and sprawled to the cold, hard ground with both cramps and a bolstered sense of hope at the Alpensia Cross-Country Centre on a cold Korean Saturday afternoon.

"Being seconds out of a medal is so exciting because I know it's possible. I have the belief. I have the confidence," she said after the race.

Diggins, who placed eighth in this race at Sochi, had constructed some enduring encouragement. She is the enthusiastic blogger who once wrote, "We've never had a women's cross-country medal at the Olympics. You know that, I know that. Your second cousin-once-removed knows that."

As she crossed the finish line and crumpled to the ground, she said, exhilarated, "I gave it everything I had."

It was the first medals handed out at the Olympics as the first silver medalist of the 2018 Winter Olympics hugged the first gold medalist with a heartfelt gusto.

That silver medalist had just made Olympic historyt.

For the women's 15-kilometer cross-country skiathlon, with its first half in the classical style and its second half in the freestyle and its usual inhumane upslopes for both styles, Sweden's Charlotte Kalla, 30, fulfilled her wish to upgrade from the silver medal she got in Sochi in 2014. Finland's 27-year-old Krista Parmakoksi got bronze and said, "Now I make it."

Amid them all, there was that silver medalist, the one who finished 7.8 seconds behind Kalla, and the one who got stuck briefly behind another racer when Kalla broke compellingly from the pack around 12.5 kilometers. The silver medalist Marit Bjoergen, the Norwegian who will reach age 38 in March, with the medal is the world's most decorated female Winter Olympian. It became her 11th medal across five Olympics: a silver in Salt Lake City in 2002; a silver in Turin, Italy, in 2006; three golds and a silver and a bronze in Vancouver in 2010; three golds in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, and this.

Yet this was also medal No. 1 in another role, that of mother, one she has held down for two years and change.

While she seemed unmoved with that former distinction about the 11 medals and whatnot, saying she'd just see "how many medals I have" once she gets home, the latter did matter.

"Things are different after I've been a mom," she said. "Things are more important to me, to be a good mom and then to do a good race. So to still be there and be fighting for medals is, I'm really happy with that."

Asked if silver suited her as she tried to become the first cross-country skier to win three straight golds in an individual event, she said, "Yeah, I'm really happy."

Asked if she felt disappointed, she said, "No, I'm not disappointed."

And as an Olympics emphasizing friendship got underway, she emphasized friendship, for a fresh gold medalist with whom Bjoergen has trained.

"For me, Charlotte is a very good friend for me also, so I'm really happy for her today," Bjoergen said. "I feel like she's been the strongest this year. I'm happy that she was taking the gold today."