Graves on Nordic

SkiTrax - - Contents - by Peter Graves

If you’re like me, chances are you re­mem­ber where you were and how you felt the night of Feb. 21, 2018, dur­ing the 2018 Olympic Win­ter Games in South Korea.

I was pub­lic an­nounc­ing for alpine ski­ing dur­ing the Games, and most of what I saw of the event was on Korean TV. That night, I rushed to a nearby food-and-drink es­tab­lish­ment to watch the women’s Team sprint, fea­tur­ing the dy­namic U.S.A. duo of Kikkan Ran­dall and Jessie Dig­gins.

The U.S. team had per­formed well at the Olympics to date, and Dig­gins es­pe­cially had al­ready been just sec­onds away from an his­toric medal for the Amer­i­can women. The U.S. fin­ished an im­pres­sive best-ever fifth in the 4x5km women’s Team Re­lay with Ran­dall, Dig­gins, So­phie Cald­well and Sadie Bjornsen.

De­spite the world- class na­ture of ev­ery Olympic com­pe­ti­tion, I had been ex­pect­ing a real break­through here, and why not. The U.S. women had been putting to­gether some ter­rific World Cup and World Cham­pi­onships re­sults, com­plete with medals. The tide was turn­ing and most ev­ery­one felt it. Not that the road was easy. Over the years, once the U.S. fielded a Na­tional team, the women ath­letes had much to en­dure on the path to suc­cess. And they also have had to tol­er­ate some mea­sure of skep­ti­cism dur­ing that time. But through­out the past 10 years or so, things re­ally be­gan to im­prove. A medal seemed likely in their fu­ture.

In this era, the U.S. women found a leader in Ran­dall, and along with the coach­ing staff, the team be­gan to gel in a most beau­ti­ful way. Bit by bit, they grew to­gether, built the base and started chal­leng­ing the world’s cross-coun­try Elite skiers reg­u­larly. There was no­bil­ity to this squad as they faced the sport’s chal­lenges. They were build­ing with in­ten­tion.

In the days be­fore that spe­cial race, I had noted a quote from Afton’s Dig­gins: “Be­ing so close to the medals this week so many times, I knew I was in great shape and I knew it could hap­pen. I just felt un­stop­pable, and I’m in the best shape of my life.”

And so it was on that night, sit­ting at the bar, I asked for the TV to be tuned to cross-coun­try ski­i­ing, live from Alpen­sia. My alpine-team sport-pro­duc­tion staff gath­ered round, as they knew that this race held deeply per­sonal mean­ing for me. As I watched with rapt at­ten­tion, I was on pins and nee­dles, and then the cli­max hap­pened – Dig­gins out­sprinted Swe­den’s Stina Nils­son for the gold by a scant 0.19 sec­onds. The U.S.A. had done it – it had won the gold!

I burst into tears. The U.S. had won its first-ever gold in cross-coun-

try ski­ing and the women of the Red, White and Blue had achieved some­thing truly ex­tra­or­di­nary. I was be­yond thrilled and joy­ous and happy I was here to see this mo­ment in time.

Fol­low­ing the race and a joy­ous cel­e­bra­tion with team­mates and coaches, Dig­gins noted that she felt some­thing very spe­cial that night: “You know, com­ing around the fi­nal cor­ner, I felt kind of like I was coil­ing a spring and then let­ting it go, giv­ing it ev­ery­thing I had and dig­ging as deep as I could have. I left it all out there,” she ex­claimed.

Ran­dall, whose first Olympic Games date back to Salt Lake 2002, and who re­tired fol­low­ing the 2018 Win­ter Games, said, “This is what re­ally kept me go­ing over the last four years; it’s a dream come true. I have been try­ing to con­trib­ute to­wards a Team medal here, and to do it with Jessie, it’s just amaz­ing.”

For those in the know, this was a team win. Ath­letes, coaches, ser­vice peo­ple, wax­ers and the like all con­trib­uted might­ily to make this dream a re­al­ity.

Again, Dig­gins cap­tured the mo­ment per­fectly: “This team just brings out the best in me, and we just had so many peo­ple work­ing so hard to give us this op­por­tu­nity. I’m so grate­ful.”

In a few min­utes, my glad tears had sub­sided. I couldn’t help but think of the many peo­ple who have passed on who in their own way con­trib­uted to this very spe­cial his­toric mo­ment. How I wish they could have wit­nessed this mo­ment.

Af­ter all these years, the mo­ment hap­pened de­spite great ob­sta­cles – the women be­lieved in them­selves and wrote their own script right to the top of the podium. Thank you for your amaz­ing race.

It was an evening I will re­mem­ber the rest of my life.

The USA'4 s Jessie Dig­gins (l) and team­mate Kikkan Ran­dall at the fin­ish of the women's Team Sprint at Pyeongchang 2018 claim­ing the USA'S his­toric first Olympic gold medal in cross-coun­try ski­ing.

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