Cheering from Alaska: Women’s relay 5th at the Olympics

Olympic skier Holly Brooks hosted at slumber party to watch the U.S. women’s cross-country relay at the Olympics. (Emily Russell/Alaska Public Media)

The U.S. women’s cross-country ski team went into the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea with the hopes of winning a medal at the winter games.

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It’s never been done before, but early Saturday morning, four American women, including two from Alaska, had a chance at making history in the 4×5 kilometer relay.

In Anchorage, Holly Brooks hosted a party to cheer on the team.

Brooks comes to the door with her five-month-old in a festive, red and white striped onesie.

Brooks was on the U.S. cross-country ski team at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics and now she’s a counselor for athletes.

What do you do when your team could make history but the race is after midnight and you’ve got a set of five month old twins?

You host a slumber party.

Brook’s friends Andrew and Calisa Kastning arrive with their three daughters, all of whom are decked out in red, white, and blue.

“Oh my gosh, you guys have great outfits on,” Brooks said.

Brooks’s husband, Rob Whitney, holds up their daughter, Ruby Joy. (Emily Russell/Alaska Public Media)

The girls lift up their winter coats, revealing t-shirts sporting the stars and stripes.

“Oh how cool,” Brooks exclaimed. “And you have relay socks on!”

At the last Olympics and at World Cup races in Europe, the American women wore flashy red and white striped socks. Brooks has worn them in a few relays herself.

“You put the socks on and your’e transformed into this super powerful USA relay racer,” Brooks explained.

The American women’s relay team finished fourth at the last three world championships, so people here really believe tonight is the night.

They pile onto the couch. The NBC camera pans across the crowd. Fans wave little American flags in the air and one guy with a U.S. Ski Team hat dances in the stands.

“Who is that guy?” Brooks asked.

In Pyeongchang, the skiers jog out to the start line and snap into their skis.

“I have goosebumps,” Brooks said.

American Sophie Caldwell is first in the relay. She punches her poles into the snow, bounding forward.

There are fourteen teams in the relay and pretty quickly a pack of seven skiers pulls ahead. The camera shows Caldwell in that pack, but with every turn she falls farther behind.

“Come on Soph, come on Soph,” Brooks cheered.

The camera stays on the lead pack and finally we can’t see Caldwell at all. The leaderboard shows the gap when Caldwell hands off to Sadie Bjornsen to ski the second leg of the relay.

Brooks was on the U.S. cross-country ski team at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics and now she’s a counselor for athletes. (Emily Russell/Alaska Public Media)

Brooks’s husband, Rob Whitney, shakes his head.

“We’re over a minute out,” Whitney said.

And these races are usually won by a seconds.

Bjornsen doesn’t lose more time, and hands off to Kikkan Randall who also holds steady. She then hands off to the American anchor Jessie Diggins, who is still a minute back.

In the end, it’s Norway that wins gold. Sweden crosses the finish line just two seconds back and an Olympic athlete from Russia earns bronze.

Brooks leans up against her husband.

“It’s pretty disappointing,” Brooks said. “A little bit too reminiscent of Sochi, in a way.”

The same thing happened– the first American leg of the relay fell behind by more than a minute. The team got 8th place at the Sochi games.

“I mean, I definitely still have hope,” Brooks said.

Finally, Diggins crosses the finish line. The camera shows her being held up and hugged by her three teammates. These women– they’re smiling.

The U.S women’s cross-country ski team didn’t win their first medal but they climbed back up the leaderboard and finished 5th, their best relay result ever at the Olympics.

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Emily Russell, Alaska Public Media - Anchorage
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.