It’s been an incredible 24 hours for nordic skiers Kikkan Randall, from Anchorage and her Minnesota teammate Jessie Diggins. The pair made history in Italy Sunday, Feb. 24, winning the first World Championship gold medal in cross country skiing for the U.S. They dominated the skate sprint event from the beginning, but had to recover from a mishap late in the race.
On her final sprint leg, Jessie Diggins was hoping to tag off to Kikkan Randall in first place. She started hammering up the biggest hill on the course, trying to create a gap between herself and the rest of the field, but in the gritty and unpredictable world of sprint racing, anything can happen and in an instant Diggins lost her left pole.
“The Finnish girl behind me stepped on my pole basket and the pole came right off my hand. And um.. I remember just looking, seeing my empty hand and going, oh man. But then I thought, you know most of the course is flat or downhill from here anyway. So I think I actually just sped up, because I was like I need to keep dropping them, even with one pole, I need to drop these guys!”
Alaska Pacific University Coach Erik Flora did his own sprint to get Diggins a new pole at the top of the hill. Kikkan Randall was taking it all in on a big screen as she prepared to ski the final leg of the race. She says it was incredible to watch.
“At first you couldn’t tell she was skiing without a pole. And then you realized she was skiing even faster. She got that new pole and got back in there so quick. It was like nothing even happened and then she found another burst of energy to get an even bigger lead coming into the stadium.”
Randall skied a commanding final leg and wasn’t challenged down the finishing stretch. She stood up and pumped her fist coming across the finish line with a huge smile on her face.
“The whole team just really came together. We had awesome skis. Our teammates who weren’t racing were on the course cheering like crazy. So it was a really cool day to cross the finish line, win the gold and be able to share it with the whole team. “
Jessie Diggins agrees.
“One of the coolest things ever was seeing the look on the coaches faces and to just see them high fiving each other and to see our teammates hanging over the fence pounding the boards. That was pretty sweet.”
Diggins is just 21-years-old. And before this race, she had only skied two World Cup team sprints- winning silver and gold in those events. She says she pulls out her best performances in team competition.
Randall has had several World Cup finishes at the top of the podium and won a silver medal at the World Championships in 2007. But she says this win was different.
“It blows all my individual stuff out of the water. I mean it was so much fun to cross the finish line, fall down in the snow, and have Jessie come running out and get to share that moment right there. I used to wish for a teammate that could help me be competitive at this level, its super fun to finally make it happen.”
Both women say the win gives them confidence heading into the Olympics next winter in Sochi, Russia. In the meantime, the World Championships continue for the rest of the week in Italy. After that, the team has three more weeks of World Cup racing before the season wraps up.
Listen to the full story