Americans don’t medal in cross-country skiing at the Olympic Winter Games. It simply doesn’t happen — until now.
Neither Kikkan Randall nor her teammate Jessie Diggins had been born yet the last period an American took home an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing. For decades, America’s attention and medals have gone to their Alpine equivalents.
But on Feb. 21, in a near-photo finish, Randall, 35, and Diggins, 26, transgressed an American dry spell more than 15,330 days long to win a gold medal in the women’s cross-country squad sprint. It’s the first medal for the women’s cross-country squad, and it comes 42 years after the last U.S. cross-country skiing medal by any gender, a silver earned by Bill Koch in 1976.
Randall and Diggins won the race in heart-stopping way, securing the top spot by just 0.19 seconds.
“The goal was ski smart, stay out of difficulty, and just stay strong at the end, and yeah, it genuinely paid off, ” Randall said in an interview with NBC after her race.
This huge win is a longtime coming for Randall who started her Olympic career 16 years ago at the Salt Lake City Games.
In appearances across five Winter Game, Randall had 18 endeavors in multiple events but had never finished higher than sixth place, including a heartbreaking defeat in Sochi in a quarterfinal round.
“That’s the beauty of the Olympics and also the agony — it’s the working day. And if it doesn’t quite go right, that’s your opportunity, ” Randall said in an interview with NPR.
After earning the trip to Pyeongchang for her fifth Olympics, Randall like many athletes, stared down the possibility of setting up aiming her impressive athletic career without stimulating it to the podium.
But with perseverance, grit, and the support of amazing teammates, she pulled off what previously seemed impossible.
Especially notable about her is that, in addition to her history-making gold-medal performance, of the 244 athletes on Team USA, Randall is the only mom.
There are 20 fathers on the team, but Randall is the only mom of the working group.( Team USA doesn’t disclose whether athletes chose adoption or had children pass away, so we recognize that this is a fairly limiting definition of parenthood .) While there’s no official reason dedicated for the mommy inequality, it could have a lot to do with pregnancy and childbirth affecting a person’s body and the fact many child-rearing obligations are still relegated to women.
Balancing the physical, emotional, and mental demands of being a pro-athlete and primary caregiver is a challenge and commitment few among us could even fathom. But it’s one Randall not only accepted — but surmounted.
While her toddler son, Breck, stayed with his grandparents in Canada instead of making the trip-up to South Korea, he was never far away from Randall’s mind.
“I won’t get to see him for a full month, which is going to be really hard because I’ve just gotten so adapted to life chasing around a toddler, ” Randall told The Huffington Post before the rivalry. “But he is doing great with his grandparents . … I know he’s in a good place, so now I can focus on what I need to do.”
And focus she did. All the way to Team USA’s first gold medal in a sport she’s devoted the last 20 years of her life to.
“Did we just win the Olympics? ” Diggins asked.
“Yeah, we did! ” Randall said.
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