On Sunday, January 15th, Kikkand Randall and Jessie Diggins placed second in the World Cup team sprint, part of a weekend of racing in downtown Milan, Italy. This was the second silver medal World Cup performance of the year for the American women in the team sprint—Randall and Sadie Bjornsen paired up in Dusseldorf, Germany to finish second as well back in November.
While Randall has continued her remarkable season, and top results have become the norm, Diggins was racing in just the third World Cup race of her career, and first team sprint.
The event featured plenty of drama, with crashes, comebacks, and ultimately another podium appearance.
FasterSkier spoke with Randall and Diggins immediately after the race. While some of the interview appeared in the race report from that day, there was plenty that did not.
FasterSkier: Your first World Cup podium, your first World Cup weekend, what do you think?
Jessie Diggins: So cool. I wish I had stayed on my feet a little more though. (laughs)
FS: What happened there?
JD: The first time, a French girl skied, she cut right across me, so my skis just stopped and I went over pretty hard, and the second time a Swedish girl was crossing over, so I was kicking myself because I was like ‘Oh I should have gotten out faster so I was away from everyone, so I wasn’t getting pushed over,’ but that’s how it goes. Now I’ve gotten the full World Cup experience the first weekend, first race, first falls, and first podium ever, so really cool.
FS: When you went down was it hard to keep it together mentally?
JD: Yeah it definitely rattled me a bit, but having Kikkan as a partner, I was like ‘man, I know I’ve got the fastest girl out there as a partner, out there making up time,’ so thank goodness. She did an incredible job of playing catch-up after each of my mistakes.
FS: And what was it like in general, to sprint at this level, especially on this narrow course? Was it intimidating?
JD: Oh yeah (laughs). It was crazy. But also so cool. Just the experience and having so many people there cheering…it was just like, wow.
FS: (to Randall) So another big comeback. Do you feel like when something like this happens at this point, that you’re going be able to close the gap and get back?
It looked like you actually had to go back to get tagged.
Kikkan Randall: I mean we had contact, but I don’t think it was the right kind of contact. I didn’t feel a hand – body, and I was like, I’m gonna make sure, so I hockey stopped, skied back, she fell again, right as she was tagging me but that time it felt solid enough so then yeah, I knew I had a lot of work to do.
It really just depended on how those front girls wanted to ski, and if they wanted to set a hard pace, it could’ve been difficult to catch up. It actually was a pretty fast pace, but luckily I was able to get back on the group by the end of the second lap, and then once we got in there and we really nailed our last tag, so, that put me in the front and put us in great position.
FS: Were you worried at all about having enough left for the end after the effort of catching up?
KR: I knew it wasn’t going to be quite as nice as having not had to expend that extra energy on the second leg, but I also am pretty confident in my fitness and my ability to last through all the way. So when we were in good position going into the last round, I was feeling good about my chances.
FS: What is it like with Canada on the podium? I think that at the Tour you said it would be cool one of these days to have that happen.
KR: Yeah it’s pretty neat, I mean especially with the cooperation that we had this summer at our camp in Alaska, and we all got fired up about getting on the podium more often, and we’re on the podium together. It’s just a huge step forward. North America didn’t used to be on the podium at all, and now to take two of the three places. It’s pretty awesome.
FS: (to Diggins) And your last lap looked very good, like you moved up quite a bit.
JD: I was just feeling like, man I need to get a shot of redemption here after falling twice, I’ve had girls skiing all over me, I need to just go as hard as I can early on. So around that corner by the bridge I was just like go go go, just get out of everybody’s way so I don’t get skied over again.
I knew the last tag, I was thinking ‘I can’t botch this one up. This is actually the really important one,’ so, I was just so thankful [to get through clean]. On that last time I was really really watching. I was like is this Swede going over here? Is this one going over here? It was cool!
FS: Did you feel good physically, in terms of your fitness and after the travel?
JD: I have no idea how to tell where I am other than if I recover well in between the rounds, but I thought I was going to be jetlagged out of my mind, but I bounced back pretty quick this time, had some good rest, and just pure adrenaline maybe.
FS: (to Kikkan) In Dusseldorf you paired with Sadie, and now Jessie. What does that say for American women’s skiing that you guys actually have really hard decisions to make for these types of events?
KR: Yeah it’s just a totally new era. I used to come over here and have to sit out these team sprints because I didn’t have a partner, and now to be having a hard time selecting a team, it’s a tremendous step forward, and I think we can attribute it to opening the door and trying to see what’s possible.
And now everyone really believes and we’re working together. I think that’s why we can field such strong teams now. And it’s going to be really exciting in the next couple of years, when we’re looking at the team sprint at World Champs next year, and at the Olympics. I think we can be competitive for a medal.
FS: Did you guys talk strategy before this race? Did you have a plan?
KR: We did a little bit. I mean we know we’ve both got strong fitness, so we knew to be smart and get in a good position early, but also not get too frantic and waste a lot of energy early. We knew we’d come on stronger through the race, and I think that was good because you know that means we both still had gas left in the tank when we needed to move up, so that was a good strategy.
FS: And did you practice tags at all?
KR: We did practice our tags. Of course it’s a lot easier when you don’t have ten other girls in the mix with you, and not knowing where they’re going, but yeah, we got a couple practice tags in before.
JD: It’s so crazy not knowing when someone’s going to cut over and stuff, so maybe with time—it’s one of those things, as you get more experience, you learn how to look for that stuff.
FS: The openings, and where to move and when?
JD: It’s crazy, like one thing that was just blowing my mind is how fast it could change. You could be in second place and then take one corner wrong, and be in the back of the pack, and then take the next corner well and be back near the front and it was just like, everything kept shifting. It was nuts.
FS: And is that hard? To deal with all that, be at the front, be at the back?
JD: Well it’s kind of like ‘Yay! Oh no. Oh yay!’ It’s hard to keep up with it. I was like, I don’t even know where I am part of the time, but it was really just so cool to be here.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.