ANCHORAGE — The U.S. women’s epochal third-place relay finish at the World Cup stop in Gällivare, Sweden, in November 2012 is justly hailed as an inflection point for American skiing: For the first time in American nordic history, this country had four athletes who were all strong enough on the same day to challenge the traditional Scandinavian powers at their own game. The race begins Peggy Shinn’s historical treatment, World Class: The Making of the U.S. Women’s Cross-Country Ski Team, and features prominently in Jessie Diggins’s recent memoir. Although American ski fans may have subsequently become somewhat inured to success, it was a really big deal at the time – contemporary headlines on this website included phrases like “U.S. Women Shock the World” and “Historic U.S. Performance.”
The first two legs that day in Gällivare were Holly Brooks on the scramble leg, then Kikkan Randall on the second classic leg. (Liz Stephen and Jessie Diggins, who had the skate legs, were obviously of equal importance, but this article is pursuing a selective focus on just three Alaskan athletes in order to introduce a specific op-ed.) When the team did it again a year later, taking third once more at the Lillehammer World Cup stop in December 2013, it was now Randall handing off to Sadie Bjornsen (then Stephen and Diggins once more for the skate legs).
Seven years later, those classic-leg skiers – longtime friends and teammates, for Alaska Pacific University domestically and the U.S. Ski Team internationally – are teaming up once more in support of the ski program at the University of Alaska Anchorage, or UAA.
In a powerful opinion piece published in Wednesday’s Anchorage Daily News, the three athletes, who have a combined nine Winter Olympics between them, write “on behalf of all the young aspiring athletes in the Anchorage community and the state of Alaska, a place we are proud to hail from.” Brooks, Randall, and Maubet Bjornsen continue, “The [UAA ski] team is an important institution in our community and demonstrates everything that is good about hard work, healthy lifestyles and what you can achieve when you put your mind to it.”
There’s much more. The entire article is worth your time.
Other articles in today’s local paper include a eulogy for UAA hockey – which, like chivalry in the late Middle Ages, seems to have always been in decline – and an opposing opinion piece titled, “Restructuring UAA Athletics creates a foundation for stronger, more sustainable future.”
Ski team supporters have launched a petition, which may be found here. Anchorage supporters are planning a short-notice, socially distanced rally for Thursday afternoon at Hilltop Ski Area (see flyer at right). Public comments may be submitted to the University of Alaska Board of Regents at firstname.lastname@example.org, cc’ing email@example.com.
The Board of Regents will hear public testimony from 4-5 p.m. next Monday, August 31, in advance of its upcoming Board meeting on September 10-11 at which it is scheduled to vote on the chancellor’s proposal to eliminate skiing, men’s hockey, and women’s gymnastics.
Gavin Kentch is a lifelong Alaskan. He skis with the Alaska Pacific University Masters team in Anchorage, plays with his two adorable daughters, and occasionally works as a solo attorney. He has a cat named Marit. He was probably on snow this year before you were.