Alaska cross-country skier Kikkan Randall and U.S. teammate Jessica Diggins wowed the world on Sunday, making history by winning the gold medal in the team sprint race at the Nordic World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
Randall powered away from the Swedes and Finns, who have owned cross-country skiing for decades, to win by 7.8 seconds. That’s a rout in a sport were victories are routinely decided by tenths of a second. The nordic skiing website FasterSkier.com described the end of the race this way:
“It was somehow still astounding to see Randall emerge over the final hill light years ahead of Sweden, Finland, Norway and Italy. Through freshly falling snow, Randall powered past the grandstand, only easing off at the last second to raise her arm in triumph.”
Four years ago at the world championships, Randall won an individual silver medal, but this is her first gold -- and winning with a teammate made it particularly special.
“It’s unreal,” Randall told FasterSkier.com afterwards. “This is a moment you dream about for a long time, and we just knew that if we went out there and skied well and stayed out of trouble we could do it."
Randall, 30, and Diggins, 21, traded off legs in the six-lap event, in which each skier goes 1.2 kilometers before tagging off to her teammate. After her final leg, Diggins was 1.4 seconds ahead of Charlotte Kalla of Sweden, the defending champion with Ida Ingemarsdotter and an Olympic gold medalist. Randall hammered her final lap, steadily pulling away. Finland was third, 10.9 seconds behind the Americans. Norway, one of the prerace favorites, was fourth.
“Wow, can’t explain how good this feels!,” Randall tweeted after the race. “So proud of Jessica Diggins for skiing like a vet.” Randall, a three-time Olympian, skis with the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center.
Before tweeting, Randall collapsed in the snow at the finish line to absorb the significance of the first American gold medal in cross-country skiing at the world championships. Earlier in the competition, American Sarah Hendrickson took gold in the women's ski jump.
Randall is one of the world’s top sprinters, and she owns seven victories in her specialty on the World Cup circuit that matches the best nordic skiers on the planet. One of those wins came with Diggins two months ago in Quebec.
"I'm sprinting with the best sprinter in the world," Diggins said told The Associated Press. "I knew that if I could get her to take off in a good position, she'd be able to hold it and improve upon it.”
Diggins knew, and now the world knows, too.