Golden finish could start something big for US cross-country skiing

Chip Scoggins, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Olympics

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- Jessie Diggins got a poster of Olympic cross-country skier Bill Koch when she was a kid and hung it above her bed.

Koch won a silver medal at the 1976 Olympics, and Diggins idolized him. His poster still hangs in her bedroom at her parents' Afton, Minn., home.

Koch was the only American -- man or woman -- to own an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing until Wednesday night. Diggins hopes her image inspires the next generation of skiers, just as Koch did for her.

"Help them realize that it's OK to dream super-big," Diggins said. "And it's OK to be brave enough to want those goals that seemed previously out of reach."

Diggins and teammate Kikkan Randall smashed through that barrier with a historic performance Wednesday that officials with U.S Ski believe will be a game-changer for their sport.

Diggins and Randall became the first American women to medal in cross-country at the Olympics, winning gold in the team sprint. Diggins anchored the last leg and turned in a finish for the ages, overtaking Sweden's Stina Nilsson with a late charge.

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Roughly 14 hours later, Diggins was still trying to process the magnitude of their accomplishment while being whisked to various media appearances.

"It's been overwhelming in the best way because I spent hours visualizing that race and every possible scenario," she said. "I prepared for everything except for winning. So it's a little bit like, 'Well, what now?' It's been a total whirlwind and trying to process it all has been really fun. I'm sure one of these days it will sink in."

When it eventually does, she might find that she helped spark a sea change in American cross-country skiing. U.S. women had not won a medal in cross country in 46 years of competing in the Olympics. They didn't come close many years.

Randall is a five-time Olympian so she understands the struggles, sacrifice and hard work required to reach this point as well as anyone. She finished 44th in her only race at her first Olympics, in 2002 in Salt Lake City.


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