2018-02-21 06:15:04
U.S. Wins First Cross-Country Gold Ever

06:15, February 21 144 0

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — A pair of American women ended one of the longest droughts in Olympic sports for the United States.

Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins won gold in the women’s team sprint freestyle race, defeating more heralded teams from Sweden and Norway.

They are the first American cross-country skiers to win a medal at the Olympics since Bill Koch took home a silver in 1976, 15,367 days ago.

The win was especially sweet for Diggins. She has finished in the top six in every one of her four Olympic events thus far. She missed a medal in the 10 kilometer freestyle last week by 3.3 seconds.

She came into Wednesday’s race undeterred, saying she would not have hung around the Games if she had lost her hopes for a medal.

The pair blasted through the semifinals, winning their heat with a time of 16:22.56, more than 10 seconds faster than the Norwegians who won their heat with a time of 16:33.28. Norway has dominated the cross-country races at these Games.

In the final in at Alpensia Cross-Country Skiing Center in Pyeongchang, they crossed the line in 15:56.47 to claim their medal.

Randall and Diggins have made cross-country history together for the U.S. before. In 2013, they won a world championship gold medal – the first for the U.S. – taking the women’s team sprint by almost 8 seconds. They both won individual medals in the 2017 world championships. Diggins won the silver in the sprint and Randall win the bronze. Diggins also won the bronze in the team sprint with Sadie Bjornsen.

Those achievements produced high pressure and expectations for the American women. A book has been written about them, and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association promoted them extensively heading into the Games. But American women have arrived at the Olympics with a decent shot at a medal before, only to be stymied by their rivals from Europe.

That scenario seemed to be repeating itself through the first 11 days of these Olympics. Diggins finished in fifth in the women’s skiathlon, the highest Olympic finish ever for a U.S. women’s cross-country skier, but out of the medals.

Then she finished sixth in the sprint, running out of gas in the finals.

Then came the three second miss in the 10 kilometer race.

Sprinting — especially uphill — is her specialty though, and the course that included a nasty ascent gave her a golden opportunity for a prize that had eluded American skiers for more than four decades.