Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall do the impossible
There have been plenty of impressive performances throughout the 2018 Winter Olympics, but none are more inspirational than the gold medal won by Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall in the Women’s Cross Country Team Sprint for Team USA.
Cross-country skiing, a discipline long dominated by Scandinavian countries such as Norway and Sweden, was flipped on its head Wednesday when Diggins and Randall became the first U.S. athletes to win a gold medal in any Olympic cross-country event, men’s or women’s. The victory in came in just about the most exciting way possible too: a photo finish that saw Diggins extend her ski at the finish line to beat her competitor from Sweden by only a few tenths of a second.
As thrilling of a finish as it was, it’s the history behind the win that really makes it special. Not only was this the first gold medal for Team USA cross-country skiers, this was only the second medal EVER for the U.S. in the discipline. The only other U.S. cross-country skier to medal was Bill Koch in 1976, when he won a silver medal. Compare this to the cross-country skiing powerhouses, and you can see just how historic of a moment this was for Team USA (Norway has 107 cross-country medals to its name, and Sweden has 74).
So how did we get here, you might ask? Through the determination of Diggins and Randall, two stellar athletes with an iron will.
Kikkan Randall, at 35 years old and competing in her sixth Olympic Games, has paved the way for a whole generation of cross-country skiers in the U.S. She was the first cross-country skier from the U.S. to win a World Cup and, more importantly, proved the U.S. could hang with the Norway’s and Sweden’s of the world. Despite never receiving the funding or fanfare of the higher-profile Olympic Sports, Randall pushed on determined to make her mark against the odds.
Randall represents the long journey to this point, and Diggins represents the future. At 26-years old, the Afton, Minnesota native is one of the best cross-country skiers in the world, and was just a good a medal bet as any competitor in PyeongChang. She has everything you hope to see in a young star: ability, energy and a killer work ethic. If Randall proved the U.S. could compete with the powerhouses, Diggins has shown that the U.S. can beat the powerhouses, something that was once unthinkable.
The fact that the first U.S. gold in cross-country came as a combined effort from the two is only fitting. The changing-of-the-guard symbolism is obvious. Any medal would of been hailed as an accomplishment, but the gold is a testament to the grit and tenacity of these two skiers.
Only time will tell the affect their performance has on the future of U.S. cross-country skiing. For now though, Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall will go down as pioneers in the sport. They’ve done the impossible, and the sport will never be the same.