InterviewsNewsOlympicsRacingUS Ski TeamTeam Sprint Tidbits: The Best of What You Haven’t Read

FasterSkier FasterSkierFebruary 21, 2018
Americans Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins jumping for joy after placing first in the 2018 Olympic team sprint on Wednesday night in PyeongChang, South Korea, ahead of Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla (l) and Stina Nilsson (second from l) in second place and Norway’s Marit Bjørgen (second from r) and Maiken Caspersen Falla (r) in third. (Photo: FlyingPointRoad)

FasterSkier would like to thank Fischer Sport USA, Madshus USA, Concept2, Boulder Nordic Sport, and Swix Sport US for their generous support, which made this coverage possible.

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — There was a lot to process Wednesday, what with the U.S. women’s team sprint Olympic gold medal and all. But now that we’ve had a little time to breathe, FasterSkier wanted to bring you the best of the interviews that didn’t make our initial race reports. (Don’t worry, plenty more on this historic gold to come!)

Kikkan Randall, Team USA’s first-leg skier:

“It’s an amazing feeling. This is something the American team has been working for a long, long time. We’ve had one other medal back in 1976 from Bill Koch and for me, I’ve been on this Olympic path for the last 20 years. We’ve known it’s possible, but of course it takes putting together the right day, and it’s just an amazing validation for our team that’s worked so hard and what this can do for cross-country skiing back in the United States, it’s just so exciting.”

Kikkan Randall en route to gold with Jessie Diggins (not shown) in the women’s freestyle team sprint at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. (Photo: FlyingPointRoad)

On whether she knew this would be a historical race for Norway’s Marit Bjørgen (with her 14th Olympic medal):

“I knew that Marit’s been skiing really well all week and that she would be tough competition and knew she would be strong going up that second climb. When I arrived here, I saw the hill and thought, ‘That’s a good hill for Marit, and it’s a good hill for Kikkan.’ Marit is probably the greatest skier of all time and it’s been an honor to race with her, and of course it’s really fun for us to get our historic day and that gold medal, but also an amazing accomplishment for Marit to be the most successful Winter Olympian of all time.”

On her foot injury and Olympic prep:

“I had a foot injury that came in December and it caused me to change my training a little bit, and I also didn’t do as much training as I wanted to. I think that once I did start racing again, every race helped me get better. The skiathlon here was definitely a challenge; it was a tough course and I really struggled in the classic, so it took a lot just to keep my mind calm and relaxed and just think about one race at a time, and I was happy that things went better in the 10 k. It was a real honor to get named to our relay because it was tough to pick that team, but I was happy to have another strong leg there and then it was another anxious wait to see if I would even be named to this team. So as the Games went on, this is the event that I looked forward to most and have looked forward to the most over the last four years, and it was really a good feeling that my confidence was actually getting better and my feelings were getting better as we got closer.”

On how she hopes this medal will impact her sport in the U.S.:

“What’s really cool is I don’t think we’re gonna have to wait another decade for this to happen again. We have an amazing group of junior skiers and U23 [athletes] that are coming up. They won a medal in the relay at the World Juniors last year, we had another girl that was on the podium twice at World Juniors this year, our junior men were on the podium at World Juniors, so I think the door has been opened and what I hope this gold medal really means is what those kids dream about, being in this position someday and they really feel it’s possible, and the Olympics has the power to do more inspiration than any of the other races that we do that are typically in Europe. So it’s really cool to finally get the high profile and give those kids the belief and hopefully also to get more people to start cross-country skiing because they saw it here and they get excited and they want to go try it.”

On the Norwegian crown prince, Norwegian prime minister and Swedish king all attending the Games, and whether she thinks an American president will ever be at a cross-country ski race:

“Actually, when President Obama first got inaugurated I had a dream that I was sitting on Air Force One talking to him about cross-country skiing and telling him that it was a really cool sport but didn’t get enough attention, and he said when he became president he would help make cross-country higher profile, but that’s about the closest I’ve ever gotten to a president at a cross-country ski race.”

 

Jessie Diggins, Team USA’s second-leg skier: 

“Team sprints are so much fun and I’ve been looking forward to this day for a year since the Lahti team sprint ended so I guess watching Kikkan do her leg so well and getting us in a position where we were going to get a medal, I was just watching that like, ‘Oh, well, OK, we’re gonna try to make it a gold one, then. We have nothing to lose.’ I really wanted to make this happen for this team, and we always said any medal we got was going to belong to the team. It was a team that got us here and gave us this opportunity and pushed us so hard in training all summer long and so I just had a lot of belief going in that last lap.”

Jessie Diggins (14) edges Sweden’s Stina Nilsson (r) for gold, while Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla (l) races to bronze, in the women’s freestyle team sprint final at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. (Photo: Noah Hoffman)

On what was going through her head during the final:

“Lap 2, I started to push the pace because I thought, ‘Both of these girls are really, really strong sprinters and I’m an OK sprinter, but I need everyone else to get pretty tired if I have a shot.’ ”

“That last corner, I don’t know what I was thinking except for just, ‘Go, go, go!’ because you really gotta dig really deep and I was in a lot of pain, for sure, but when your team is counting on you, you have to give it everything you have.”

On what it means to team up with Randall:

“I feel really lucky to have these, like, older sisters and role models on the team that I really look up to, every single one of them, and they’ve really shown me what is possible and shown me that it’s OK to dream really, really big. It means a lot to me because if this is the last team that [Kikkan and I] get to team sprint together, it’s like, ‘OK, I gotta make it a good one. I’ve gotta go out with a bang.’ And it’s so cool because Kikkan’s been this big role model in my life since before I got on the national team and it’s just such an honor to get to race with her every time and get to share those pre-race giggles and high fives and get to paint up the face.”

On her first words with Randall after finishing:

Americans Kikkan Randall (l) and Jessie Diggins on the top step of the 2018 Olympic team sprint podium after beating Sweden and Norway for gold on Wednesday at the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. (Photo: FlyingPointRoad)

“I think I asked her, ‘Did we just win the Olympics?’ because it didn’t feel like it was real and it still doesn’t feel like it’s real, but I just was so excited and so happy and also I couldn’t feel my legs.”

On handling any perceived pressure:

“For me, it’s been hard to not let it get inside my head and to race for myself because when I’m having fun, that’s when I’m actually dangerous on the race course and you get one too many people saying, ‘I believe that you’re going to go win!’ it becomes less fun because I don’t do it just to win, that’s not the whole end game for me. Having this awesome team atmosphere — we’ve been playing games, we’ve been dancing, we’ve been watching movies, we’ve been having a really good time here at the Olympics — and making sure that within our own little bubble that we keep it relaxed and keep it fun and keep a happy team vibe, I think that’s been a huge key for me, and kind of being able to go through the mixed zone with selective listening and make sure I’m still racing for me and for my team.”

On how this medal will affect future generations of U.S. skiers:

“I’m so excited to put some facepaint and put the socks on those kids because they are coming up hot and they’re working so hard and it’s so cool to see that we’re not going to retire and leave this gaping hole, there’s people coming up to take our places.”

 

 

Chris Grover, U.S. Ski Team Head Coach: 

U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover (l) with Jessie Diggins after Diggins and Randall won gold in the women’s freestyle team sprint at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. (Photo: FlyingPointRoad.com)

On choosing Randall as the first leg:

“We anticipated that it would probably be Marit or [Ragnhild] Haga that was skiing this leg for Norway, and we did think that it would also be Charlotte Kalla who was skiing for Sweden. So we knew there would be some great skaters, some great aerobic athletes that were in that capacity. We thought Kikkan, the way that her skate fitness has been coming on over the last few races here at the Olympics, we thought that her fitness could at least help us hang on to those ladies if they were really going to go, and we were just really pleasantly surprised that Kikkan was able to match them no problem throughout the day. That was exciting. Both women looked so in control in the semifinal that we knew they were going to have a crack at a medal in the final.”

On watching Diggins and Sweden’s Stina Nilsson racing for gold in the finishing stretch of the final:

“With Stina, she obviously was in incredible form in some of the other races here. Maiken [Caspersen Falla] as well, they obviously went first and second in the individual sprint, so there was gonna be no gimmies at all in the finish. We would have been so exhilarated and happy just to have a medal of any color, but for Jessie to have such a fantastic day and to be able to pull off the win was beyond our expectations.”

 

Tiger Shaw, U.S. Ski & Snowboard President and CEO:

“We are just flying high. I mean, I am still just numb with what those women have achieved; Kikkan, Jessie and the whole team, and the coaches and the techs and trainers … I’m speechless.”

“The culture of that team is just unbelievable, and they have conquered the world, coming from obscurity led by a single woman into a dynamic men’s and women’s team that is absolutely stunning. It makes one of the best stories I think in sport.”

On watching the race unfold:

“I was so excited there was a group of three and not a group of four because then you knew we had almost for sure a medal in the bag, and then all of a sudden you realized Jessie could get it done. And she came around that last corner and down that stretch and beat the best sprinter in the world. We were just screaming our brains out in amazement. Just thinking of the energy and the excitement of that I’ll never forget that for the rest of my life.”

 

Luke Bodensteiner, U.S. Ski & Snowboard Chief of Sport:

Jessie Diggins with U.S. coach after Diggins and Kikkan Randall won gold in the freestyle team sprint at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. (Photo: FlyingPointRoad)

On other sports taking notice of this U.S. cross-country team’s success:

“I have gotten so many messages now from people here in Team USA saying … head of speed skating got one saying this is the best moment of the Games for the entire Team USA. Our head coach in alpine texts me said, ‘I have never seen such a possessed, will-not-lose moment in my entire career.’ … This makes this hugely successful Olympics.”

On medal chances:

“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. But there is a difference between getting in there for a bronze medal and winning the thing outright. And that’s not something we… well, I guess we dreamed of it, but it’s not something we would have called out coming in here. So they lifted their game and they skied out of their minds. Kikkan would not be dropped, she covered all those moves on the climb, and of course the way Jessie finished it off was best in the world right there.”

“I was right on the finish line. … You could see a meter out that [Jessie] had this thing and people broke down in tears there, lots of hugs and tears.”

 

Charlotte Kalla, Sweden’s first-leg skier:

Jessie Diggins (l), Sweden’s Stina Nilsson (r) and Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla (behind) heading into the last 100 meters of the women’s freestyle team sprint final at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. (Photo: FlyingPointRoad)

“We are very happy for Kikkan and Jessie. They are so worthy of this gold medal.”

On skiing with Randall for a long time and whether these will be Kalla’s last Olympics as well:

“I don’t know. It may be the last. Kikkan, she has meant a lot for the whole team in the USA, and we have a special relationship because Kikkan has been several times in Sweden training with us, and I know in Vålådalen especially, where we exercised this [last] August, we pushed each other really really hard. She is an impressive skier.”

 

Marit Bjørgen, Norway’s first-leg skier:

“I’m very, very happy for Jessie and Kikkan today for taking a gold medal, and I feel also special that Kikkan is there. She also started [her first] Olympics in Salt Lake [like] me so I’m very happy for them, and I also think that’s very important for our sport, too, that they [won], so I’m very, very happy for them.”

 

Johannes Høsflot Klæbo, Norwegian men’s team-sprint winner:

On whether they were surprised about the win of the U.S. women:

“No, I’m not surprised. I think the way they managed to do the last round, it’s quite cool to see, and for sure it’s quite good for the sport and yeah, I think it’s amazing.”

 

Martin Johnsrud Sundby, Norwegian men’s team-sprint winner:

“I think all athletes admire the head of Jessie Diggins. That’s fantastic.”

***

One of the team sprint press conferences, with (from left to right) Sweden’s Stina Nilsson and Charlotte Kalla, a Russian translator and Denis Spitsov, American Kikkan Randall, Norway’s Marit Bjørgen and Maiken Caspersen Falla, France’s Maurice Manificat, a translator, and France’s Richard Jouve, on Wednesday night at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. (Photo: FlyingPointRoad)

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