Author has her golden moment at Pyeongchang Games

Elliott Almond, The Mercury News on

Published in Olympics

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- Vermont author Peggy Shinn had been more than a little anxious as the U.S. women's cross-country ski team kept coming close but failing to earn its historic first Olympic medal at the Pyeongchang Games.

When Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins finally did it Wednesday night in the team sprint, it came with an exclamation point. The women who had devoted their lives to this lung-bursting pursuit won a gold medal over Norway and Sweden.

The triumph came 42 years after Bill Koch won America's first medal in the sport, a silver -- and 46 years after the U.S. women made their Olympic cross-country skiing debut.

How the women finally overcame decades of disappointment is explained in Shinn's fascinating book, "World Class: The Making of the U.S. Women's Cross-Country Ski Team" (University Press of New England).

After the race, we caught up with Shinn, who is covering her fifth Olympics for Team, the house organ of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Question: What will this mean for U.S. women's Nordic skiing?

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Answer: I think Kikkan said it best last night. She wanted the Olympic medal as much for herself and the U.S. women's team as she did for cross-country skiing in the entire country. After Bill Koch's Olympic medal in 1976, cross-country skiing surged in the U.S. Koch also inspired kids to take up the sport, and he started the Bill Koch League for youth ski racers. Many of the skiers currently on the team came up through BKL programs. Kikkan wanted to infuse skiing with another round of inspiration.

"To me, this is what I've been working for because the Olympics for the United States is the primo competition. And I know the power that Bill Koch's medal had from 1976 and I wanted so badly to have a women's medal to be able to prove to all the girls back home that you can be successful cross-country skiers. Today is finally that proof, that validation, we can do it. And I really hope that it raises the level for cross-country."

Q: You followed the story as closely as anyone. What does your book reveal about why they were able to win the race?

A: It shows that this gold medal was not just won by Kikkan and Jessie. It was won by the entire team. And my book shows how they built this teamwork, and how they used it to raise everyone's level of competition. Too often, teams are comprised of people who see their teammates as the enemy, not as people who can help them improve their own performances. A rising tide can raise all boats. But often, women see a rising tide as a threat of imminent drowning.


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