In the 2018 Olympic Women's Team Sprint Freestyle Cross Country Ski race, Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins made American Olympic history and won the gold medal in Pyeongchang, South Korea. They defeated Norwegian and Swedish superstar two-women teams as Diggins overtook the race leaders stretching over the finish line. The members of the US Women’s Cross Country Ski Team have reached the World Cup podium dozens of times in the last few years but this was the first Olympic medal by the American women in cross country skiing, and the first Olympic medal for Americans in the sport since Bill Koch won silver in 1976, and the FIRST OLYMPIC GOLD for Americans in cross country skiing.
After the race was over, Kikkan ran over to hug Jessie who was laying on the snow asking her teammate, "Oh my gosh, did we just win the Olympics?" In an NBC interview, Jessie stated, "The team events mean so much to us. I came down that hill behind the other two girls tactically to get the draft, get the slingshot - those last 100 meters I dug really, really deep." While looking at Kikkan, Jessie commented "This was the last time we are going to do this together and I wanted to make it a good one." The 7.5 km race was Kikkan's 17th career Olympic event and the other 16 ended without a medal. She commented, "The history has motivated us. I always believed deep down it was possible, but to save it for my last Olympic race - it's crazy but the best ending I could have asked for."
And by the way, announcer Peter Graves, who is known as "the voice of cross country ski racing" and Chad Salmela called the race and down the stretch it was one of the epic and exciting sports calls of all time! They should be given gold medals in the announcer category.
In the recently published “World Class: The Making of the US Women’s Cross Country Ski Team” by Peggy Shinn, the history of the team was described and the team camaraderie was exemplified throughout the pages. The sisterhood of the team was referenced by Jessie in post race comments when she said the members of the team were like a family including the coaches, wax technicians, and other support staff. We all pushed each other all year long. Diggins, the 26 year old from Afton, MN grew up idolizing Randall. "Watching her do her leg so well and getting us into a position where we were going to win a medal, I thought, ok we're going to try to make it a gold one. I just had a lot of belief going into that last lap."
How it Could Impact Cross Country Skiing
In the “World Class” book there is an explanation about the weight on Kikkan Randall in her four prior Olympics because she had been the either the lone team member or the team leader. The hopes and expectations are culminated by extreme publicity associated with winning an Olympic medal, which in today’s world is off the charts. For example, in the morning of the race, the coverage of the Olympic medal was on NBC, ESPN, and every other TV outlet, Sports Illustrated, LA Times, NY Post, USAToday, NY Times, MSN.com, Mnpls Tribune, CBSSports.com, and so on. A victory would mean much more time will be invested in promoting cross country skiing and this would result in more team sponsors, more funding of the team, and a US Ski Team official stated, "We're going to see it grow now, for sure." What could be more wholesome than the fitness and outdoors associated with cross country skiing?
Last year, Kikkan became a mother and after a year off she decided to set a goal to win a medal at the 2018 Olympics to show that women can give birth and return to being active and physical. And if it could be in a team event, all the better. The team concept has developed and it has become the most significant aspect of the American Women’s Cross Country Ski Team. This team with their unique striped socks and face glitter has even impacted the other teams in the world as the motivation associated with being part of a team is better understood. The Norwegians and Swedes commented that they were very happy for the Americans and that they were worth this gold medal.
Jessie Diggins has commented about the poster of Bill Koch on her wall. In 1976, he was the first and only American cross country ski medal winner (Nordic Combined is a different discipline than cross country skiing) and he also won a World Cup cross country ski championship in 1982. When asked how she felt about the fact that many kids across America would now have posters of her on their walls, Jessie embarrassingly replied, “I really haven't thought that far ahead, I'm just thinking about today and the accomplishment for the team.”
After being informed that the NBC TV staff was watching the end of the race and screaming for the American women, Kikkan replied "The perfect ending and a dream come true. We always hoped to create that reaction for cross country skiing!"