Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall upset the field in the team sprint freestyle race for the United States first ever womens cross-country gold medal
Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall came from behind to win a astound cross-country gold medal in Wednesday night’s squad sprint freestyle, ending one of the the United States’ longest-running Olympic droughts with a dramatic upset.
The American skiers overtook a pair of more heralded squads to finish the final in a time of 15 min, 56.47 sec, edging Sweden for the gold by 0.19 seconds and coming in nearly three seconds ahead of Norway, who added a bronze to their overflowing cross-country medal haul in Pyeongchang.
” I simply felt unstoppable ,” Diggins said.” I am in the best shape of my life right now for sure. That feeling of crossing the line and having Kikkan tackle me was the coolest thing ever .”
Diggins and Randall became the first ever American women to win any medal in cross-country skiing, much less a gold. They join Bill Koch, a silver medalist in the 30 km event at the 1976 Wintertime Game in Innsbruck, as the only US skiers to make an Olympic podium in a athletic dominated by athletes from Scandinavia.
The Americans earned a spot in the front row of the final by posting the most wonderful time in the second of two semi-finals with a trade mark of 16 min 22.56 sec, more than 10 seconds better than Norway’s winning time in the first.
” I felt better every round today ,” Randall said.” I felt strong in the semi-final, I was trying to conserve energy. In the final, every lap I felt stronger and stronger. When we ran up that mound I knew I simply had to keep us in there. Tactically, I wanted to keep us in there so Jessie could do what she wanted to do on that last lap .”
Diggins, the ebullient talisman of the US team who spends her downtime learning hip-hop dance routines from YouTube tutorials, was third entering the final lap before discovering an extra reserve to overtake both the Swedish and Norwegian teams and secure the history-making gold.
” In the final stretching I was just thinking,’ Go, go, go, I’m giving it everything I had and I’ve got someone who I truly love and care about waiting for me at the finishing line and I just wishes to attain her proud ‘,” Diggins said.” Just expressed his belief that we had what it took the entire day .”
Diggins entered Pyeongchang on a tailwind of optimism with a US-record four world championships medals including a pair of silvers last year to her name.
But an Olympic breakthrough appeared less and less likely as the near-misses piled up over the last week and a half. The 26 -year-old finished in the top six in each of her previous four events at these Games but each time failed to reach the rostrum , none more agonizing than last week’s 10 km freestyle where she missed out on a bronze by 3.3 seconds.
” I have been working so hard for so long, the entire squad has ,” Diggins said.” Being so close to medals so many times this week, I knew I was in good shape and I knew it could happen. This team brings the absolute best out in me .”
The catharsis was different but no less acute for the 35 -year-old Randall, who finally broke her Olympic maiden in her 18 th career event, setting a Winter Games record for most events before claiming a medal.
” It was hard to make this team and when I got the nod the other day, I knew I had an important job to do ,” she said. “It’s just so cool.”
Wednesday’s shock victory by the US team overshadowed an even bigger piece of history as Norway’s Marit Bjorgen, the 37 -year-old who took the bronze with team-mate Maiken Caspersen Falla, won a 14 th career medal to outshine countryman Ole Einar Bjourndalen for the most ever medals at the Winter Olympics.
But the night is accountable to Diggins and Randall, whose upset win will no doubt buoy the spirits of a US delegation who have slipped poorly in the medal table since the weekend.
” Hearing it out loud, it still doesn’t feel real ,” Randall said.” It’s what I’ve been working on for 20 years and with this squad for the last five years and wow, it’s just so fun to set it together tonight, eventually .”
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