Graves on Nordic
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.