February 21, 2015

FALUN, Sweden (AP) Jessie Diggins finds herself in a unique situation for an American cross-country skier: trying to defend a world championship title.

Diggins teamed with Kikkan Randall to win the women's team sprint at the 2013 worlds in Val di Fiemme, Italy, becoming the first Americans to win a gold medal in the sport.

On Sunday, Diggins will compete in the same event with a different teammate - Sophie Caldwell - but has hopes of surprising the bigger nations again.

''I'm really excited about it. A little nervous for sure coming in as the defending champ ... because now you have the target on the back instead of being the underdog,'' said Diggins, of Afton, Minnesota. ''But I've been visualizing this race in my mind since May. I've skied every inch of it in my head, and I'm just so excited and prepared. I think that we have a real chance of medaling.''

Randall has traditionally been the team's star and is a two-time sprint World Cup champion. However, she has struggled this season and was dropped in favor of Caldwell for the team sprint. Caldwell, of Peru, Vermont, was the best American finisher in the individual classical-style sprint on Thursday when she finished 10th. Randall failed to make it out of qualifying for the quarterfinals, while Diggins - a freestyle specialist - didn't compete.

''It's a cool thing that we have this problem of too many girls able to race so well,'' Diggins said. ''Normally we don't have that problem.''

Despite being the defending champion, the American team is hardly considered the favorite for gold. Norway has that status, despite six-time Olympic champion Marit Bjoergen skipping the event. Norway instead has Maiken Caspersen Falla teaming with Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg, the gold and silver medalists from the individual freestyle sprint at the Sochi Olympics.

But sprint races are notoriously unpredictable because of the many spills and crashes that can happen. And that means the Americans certainly have a chance at repeating.

''It's one of those events where, in team sprint, anything can happen,'' Diggins said. ''It all has to fit together. But if it does, I think we can do some really good things.''

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