Sadie Bjornsen is “knocking on the door” of an Olympic medal

Sadie Bjornsen grew up in Winthrop, Washington and moved to Anchorage to focus on her ski career.
(Emily Russell/Alaska Public Media)

The U.S. women’s cross-country ski team has four more chances to make history and earn their first Olympic medal. One skier that could help the Americans get there is Alaskan Sadie Bjornsen.

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Bjornsen remembers the first time she felt like a star. She was skiing in Europe at the time.

“I was racing out of the stadium and they have these giant screens above you so that the spectators can watch and I saw myself on the TV for the first time,” Bjornsen explained.

Bjornsen said she was shocked to see herself on the big screen.

“But the problem was I was in the race, so I was trying to focus on my race,” Bjornsen said. “At the same time I realized, ‘Wow, that’s me. I’m doing this. This is real. This is what I dreamed of forever as a kid.’”

Bjornsen grew up in Winthrop, Washington– a town of about 400 people, but Bjornsen had Olympians living on either sides of her family’s home.

With that Bjornsen started dreaming of skiing on the big stage at a young age.

“I was in middle school and high school telling all my friends I’m going to go to the 2010 Olympics,” Bjornsen said. “It was kind of the going thing, like, ‘Okay, you’re a little crazy, but okay.’”

Bjornsen took that craziness one step further after high school and moved north to ski for the University of Alaska Anchorage. She skied for UAA for one year and then took a year off to train for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

But Bjornsen missed that mark. She was 21 and devastated. She said she even thought about quitting, that was until she talked to Holly Brooks.

“Sadie and I are both from Washington state and there’s a big age difference between us,” Brooks explained, “but Sadie has kind of been a phenom since she was born.”

Brooks skied at both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics and explained that Bjornsen’s legacy as a star started when she was young.

“She was the one who was beating all the boys and everyone was like, ‘Wow, Sadie Bjornsen, Sadie Bjornsen!’ She’s always been good,” Brooks said.

So good, that Brooks told her to join the elite team at Alaska Pacific University. Brooks was skiing for APU at the time along with fellow Olympian Kikkan Randall.

And Bjornsen did. She got back on track earned a spot on the U.S. Ski team, which meant financial support and better access to training sessions.

“And that was kind of enough positive feedback that I was back on the path to my dream of becoming an Olympian,” Bjornsen explained.

Still, that path has been anything but easy.

Bjornsen has had tendinitis since she was 16 years old. She says just this past summer a few different injuries had her doubting her future.

“Here I am having these dreams of winning Olympic medals,” Bjornsen exclaimed, “and I can’t even get out the door and functionally walk around.”

But, Bjornsen got healthier, she got stronger, and this season she’s done better than ever. Bjornsen has podiumed multiple times in World Cup races this season.

As far as the Olympics go, Bjornsen has her sights set on the 10 kilometer skate race and the 4×5 kilometer relay.

“Our women’s team has been 4th place now for four [World Cup] championships,” Bjornsen explained, “so we’re knocking on the door of that medal.”

The women’s 10 kilometer skate race airs Wednesday, Feb. 14 at 9:30 p.m. and the 4×5 kilometer relay airs in Alaska on Saturday, Feb. 17 at 12:30 a.m.

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Emily Russell is the voice of Alaska morning news as Alaska Public Media’s Morning News Host and Producer. Originally from the Adirondacks in upstate New York, Emily moved to Alaska in 2012. She skied her way through three winters in Fairbanks, earning her Master’s degree in Northern Studies from UAF. Emily’s career in radio started in Nome in 2015, reporting for KNOM on everything from subsistence whale harvests to housing shortages in Native villages. She then worked for KCAW in Sitka, finally seeing what all the fuss with Southeast, Alaska was all about. Back on the road system, Emily is looking forward to driving her Subaru around the region to hike, hunt, fish and pick as many berries as possible. When she’s not talking into the mic in the morning, Emily can be found reporting from the peaks above Anchorage to the rivers around Southcentral.