You may have noticed that Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins won a gold medal yesterday. (If you’ve forgotten, or just haven’t seen the video in the last five minutes, you should probably go watch that finish sprint one more time. We’ll wait.)
The rest of the world noticed. For longtime fans of the sport, one of the most surreal things about Wednesday may have been seeing cross-country skiing – our sport, a niche sport, a pastime that typically merits mention in The Gray Lady only when it’s in that one piece about cross-country skiing and “topographical Buddhism” that all your friends sent you even though we’re totally cooler than that and don’t actually wear helmets and goggles when we ski – in The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and The Washington Post again, and The Wall Street Journal, and so on. Apparently gold medals talk or something.
Here’s a non-scientific roundup of how the Americans’ win was covered in English-language media. Coverage is arranged from very roughly the most-national newspapers (“the U.S. wins a medal”) to the most-parochial (“local hero Randall/Diggins wins a medal”), followed by a handful of online-only publications. Particularly good lines and, in some case, unfortunately imprecise lines are highlighted.
The New York Times: U.S. Ends Drought With Shocking Cross Country Gold Medal
Best line: “The team sprint – especially on this brutal course – is a sadistic event. It requires two skiers to take turns skiing three legs each of 1.25 kilometers. With two rounds of racing for the top 10 teams, that means six all-out sprints for each skier, with a little more than an hour to recover between the semifinals and the final.”
Least-accurate line: “Randall, an Alaska native, was the first American woman to break into the elite of international cross-country skiing, and there was a long period in which she was the only woman on the United States team.” (The phrase “Alaska Native” is the preferred term of cultural identity for the indigenous peoples of Alaska; it’s a small point, but “native Alaskan” would be more appropriate for someone who grew up in Alaska but is of Caucasian heritage. Plus, Randall was technically born in Salt Lake City while her mother was in law school in Utah, before moving to Anchorage in childhood.)
The Guardian: US skiers Jessie Diggins, Kikkan Randall stun field for historic cross-country gold
Best line: “Diggins, the ebullient talisman of the US team who spends her downtime learning hip-hop dance routines from YouTube tutorials, was third entering the final lap before finding an extra reserve to overtake both the Swedish and Norwegian teams and secure the history-making gold.”
The Washington Post (I): Kikkan Randall blazed a cross-country trail; Jessie Diggins followed it to history
Best line: “While Bjoergen was winning 14 medals, Randall was waiting for one. Diggins had made it happen with her 100-meter sprint. Randall had made it possible with the previous 16 years.”
Washington Post (II): In her fifth and final Olympics, Team USA’s only mom wins her first gold medal
Best line: “Technically, every mother deserves a gold medal.”
Least-accurate line: “And Randall – who intentionally positioned her childbirth midway between two Olympics and in a non-World Cup year – has attracted admirers for her decision to stick with her craft.” (The World Cup of course went on in Randall’s absence in the 2015/2016 season; it was a non-World Championships year.)
The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Wins Its First-Ever Cross-Country Gold
Best line: “Kikkan Randall screamed at the Alpensia Cross Country Centre’s finish line here as Jessie Diggins, her teammate on the two-woman sprint relay, ricocheted off the final turn for home.”
Least-accurate line: “The Americans found themselves in an unusual position: racing the powerhouse Norwegians and Swedes for gold over the final meters.” (Well, actually, Diggins and Randall have been competing head to head with Scandinavia for many years now, often with World Cup or World Championship gold at stake.)
The Los Angeles Times: American women win first gold medal in cross-country skiing
Best line: “When President Obama first got inaugurated,” Randall said, “I had a dream that I was sitting on Air Force One talking to him about cross-country skiing and telling him it is a really cool sport but didn’t get enough attention. He said [in the dream] when he became president, he would help make cross country a higher profile.”
Least-accurate line: “Each racer skies three legs on the twisting, undulating course, and the three medalists separated themselves from the rest of the 10-team field entering the final loop.” (The verb is “skis,” guys, not “skies.”)
Minneapolis Star Tribune (I): Jessie Diggins propels U.S. to first gold in cross-country skiing history
Best line: “When she reached the finish line, Diggins said, she couldn’t feel her legs. Within moments, though, she came out the other side of the pain cave, into the light of a golden evening.”
Least-accurate line: “It was the 18th Olympic medal for Bjoergen, the most of any Winter Olympian in history.” (Bjørgen’s cumulative medal haul is stunning, but in fact stands at “only” 14 Olympic medals total.)
Minneapolis Star Tribune (II): ‘That was classic Jessie.’ Hometown friends celebrate Jessie Diggins’ Olympic gold medal
Best line: “Diggins has stayed a part of the Stillwater team. She sent a text from South Korea last week before the Ponies girls team went out and won the team title. Wednesday the texts were going the other way.”
Pioneer Press: Afton already planning royal return for gold medalist Jessie Diggins
Best line: “Few Americans have Olympic gold medals. Fewer still have an ice cream flavor named after them. Jessie Diggins has one, and she might soon have both. … The goal is to introduce the flavor in coordination with a citywide celebration of Diggins’ accomplishment that Afton officials, business owners and residents are planning to honor their hometown hero.”
Anchorage Daily News: Anchorage skier Kikkan Randall wins Olympic gold
Best line: “Randall and Bjoergen, 37, are both five-time Olympians and both are mothers of toddlers. Randall’s son, Breck, will turn 2 in April, and Bjoergen’s son turned 2 in December. Both have shown that neither age nor motherhood spell the end of a world-class career.”
Least-accurate line: “[Diggins is] also a three-time World Championship medalist – in 2013, she and Randall won the team sprint at worlds – and a frequent visitor to the World Cup podium.” (Diggins has four World Championships medals.)
(Anchorage Daily News honorable mention: Photos: Kikkan Randall has been a standout Anchorage athlete for decades, a 27-photo slideshow pulled from the ADN archives featuring some classic shots of a very young Kikkan Randall, from a 2000 high school ski race up through the present.)
Burlington Free Press: Vermont’s Diggins claims historic Olympic gold
Best-deserved local-pride line: “Randall and Diggins join Vermonter Bill Koch as the only American skiers to win Olympic medals in the sport.”
Deadspin: American Women Just Won Their First-Ever Cross Country Medal
- Related: This Is Why Cross-Country Skiers Collapse And Barf After Races (personal essay)
Best line: “I puked after a lot of races that year. There is old camcorder footage of me vomiting at a race in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and you can audibly hear all of my teammates – and I do mean ‘all,’ I was one of the last guys across the line – scream with laughter.”
Slate: Here Comes Diggins! The United States’ thrilling win in the cross-country skiing team sprint was everything great about sports.
Best line: “On the fourth lap, Diggins made a move, pulling ahead of the entire field. Even though I already knew the outcome of the race before I watched the full replay, I still sat up in my chair when I saw Diggins pull ahead. I’ve watched enough cross-country skiing to know it’s rare for an American to ever pull ahead. ‘She’s going to do it,’ I said, even though I knew she had already done it. That’s how thrilling this race was: It made me nervous about an outcome that I already knew was not in doubt.”
Least-accurate line: “On Wednesday in Pyeongchang, cross-country skiers Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins pulled off the United States’ biggest upset of the Winter Games, winning a gold medal in the women’s team sprint. It’s safe to say no one saw this coming. If cross-country skiing is the NFL, then the United States is the Cleveland Browns. Imagine how surprised you’d be if the Browns made the playoffs, then got to the Super Bowl, then hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, having defeated Norway along the way.”
(The U.S. team is currently ranked fifth in the Nations Cup (the women alone are third), barely behind Finland for fourth. Luke Bodensteiner, U.S. Ski & Snowboard Chief of Sport, told FasterSkier yesterday, “I think we came in feeling like team sprint was not only our best opportunity for a medal, but probably a pretty high likelihood for us, honestly.” The Browns, by contrast, just suck.)
Outside Online: The U.S. Women’s Cross-Country Gold Is a Huge Deal
Best line: “People often call cross-country skiing an individual sport. But more than anything, Randall’s and Diggins’ success is a counterpoint to that idea; their victory is a testament to the people rallying behind them. … This community pushed through dips in funding, apathy in American ski culture, and the general challenges that come with pursuing the hardest sport on the planet. Today, Randall and Diggins proved that this is truly a team sport.”
Least-accurate line: [Not applicable; author Annie Pokorny, a recently retired elite American domestic racer, knows her stuff.]
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Gavin Kentch wrote for FasterSkier from 2016–2022. He has a cat named Marit.
February 23, 2018 at 12:55 pm
It sure was fun to see all the national coverage of cross country skiing. The thing I think they all missed is that Kikkan is a 3-time World Cup Sprint Champion — with 11 World Cup wins and 22 World Cup podiums (among other achievements). She’s not just a mother and a Sochi disappointment who is has been around a long time. Don’t these reporters even use Wikipedia??
February 23, 2018 at 1:01 pm
That’s 3-time season champion in Sprint World Cup.