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Olympic notebook: Bjornsen 6th in team sprint; Kikkan gets another win

  • Author: Beth Bragg
    | Sports
  • Updated: February 22
  • Published February 22

Kikkan Randall and Jessica Diggins celebrate on the podium after receiving their gold medals. (Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters)

Lost in the hoopla of the stunning gold-medal performance by Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins was the American men's effort in the men's team sprint, which started while the U.S. cross country team was still celebrating its first gold medal in Olympic history.

Anchorage's Erik Bjornsen and Colorado's Simi Hamilton placed sixth, matching their finish at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Bjornsen and Hamilton had a terrific semifinal race. They finished third in 16:04.69, less than a second behind Norway and France, which went on to win gold and bronze in the finals.

The Americans advanced to the finals as lucky losers. They were part of a big lead pack through the first two of six legs, but they fell out of contention on third leg.

Bjornsen's ski tangled with those of the skier ahead of him and he tripped early in the 1.4-kilometer leg. By the time he regained his rhythm, a lead pack of four teams was pulling away.

Bjornsen, 26, worked hard to rejoin the chase pack but couldn't catch the leaders.

"In no way did Erik let either of us down today, especially me," Hamilton told reporters after the race. "That always happens to someone, and 99 percent of the time that person, especially if they're in the finals, gives up. Erik, he never does that."

Erik Bjornsen, right, tags off to Simi Hamilton during the men’s team sprint race at the Winter Olympics. The pair finished sixth. (Soobum Im / USA TODAY Sports)

Norway, led by its newest national hero, Johannes Klaebo, won in 15:56.26. The top four teams were separated by 3.07 seconds, with the Olympic Athletes of Russia second, France third and Sweden fourth.

Klaebo, a 21-year-old superstar who said he is skipping the 50K race Saturday in South Korea, will leave Pyeongchang with three gold medals.

Italy placed fifth, 18.55 seconds off the winning pace, and the U.S. clocked 16:16.98 to finish 20.72 seconds behind Norway.

"We're proud of what we accomplished," Hamilton said. "Obviously it's always our goal to be on that podium. I think we both know we can be up there. And maybe someday we will. But if we're going to do it, there's no way we're going to do it without trying. So tonight was another of those attempts and it was super fun race. We did everything we could and came up short. We fought hard."

Gold medalists Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins dance on the victory podium. (Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters)

Kikkan gets another win

Chalk up another victory for Alaska's golden girl.

The day after claiming an Olympic gold medal by teaming up with Minnesota's Jessie Diggins to win the women's team sprint, Randall was elected by fellow athletes to the International Olympic Committee's athletes commission.

Randall and women's hockey player Emma Terho of Finland were the top vote-getters in a six-person race. They'll be the newest members of the 20-athlete commission, which works to ensure the athletes' point of view is considered when the IOC makes decisions.

"Wow, what amazing news to get today," said Randall said in a news release from U.S. Ski and Snowboard. "I have so much passion and energy to put toward the Olympic movement and it feels so good to have the athletes put their faith in me."

Randall, 35, has long embraced leadership roles. She has been a driving force of Fast and Female, an international organization that uses sports to empower young girls, and she is involved with the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame's Healthy Futures program.

Erik Bjornsen says it was a career highlight to be a punchline for a Jimmy Fallon joke after the 2014 Sochi Olympics (Matt Kryger-USA TODAY Sports)

Bjorn this way

Some athletes are born to be Olympians, or so it seems.

Girdwood figure skater Keegan Messing was born in 1992 — the same year his coach, Ralph Burghart, competed in figure skating for Austria at the Albertville Olympics.

As a little boy, Messing told Burghart he would take him back to the Olympics some day, and he was true to his word. Then he one-upped his coach by placing 12th in Pyeongchang — six spots better than Burghart's 18th-place finish in a loaded field that included gold-medalist Viktor Petrenko of the Unified Team, Canada's Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko and America's Christopher Bowman.

Kikkan Randall of Anchorage was born into a family of Olympians. Betsy Haines and Chris Haines, her aunt and uncle, competed at the 1980 and 1976 Winter Olympics, respectively.

Chris finished 52nd in the same 30-kilometer race in which Bill Koch won a silver medal — the only cross-country medal in U.S. history until Randall and Minnesota's Jessie Diggins claimed a gold medal Wednesday.

Then there's Sadie and Erik Bjornsen, siblings from Washington's Methow Valley who moved to Anchorage several years ago to pursue cross-country skiing.

After they made their Olympic debut at the 2014 Sochi Games, they appeared — in name only — on The Tonight Show as part of Jimmy Fallon's thank-you notes to the Winter Olympics (Sample: "Thank you, biathlon, for sounding like a contest that could go either way.")

Photos of the Bjornsens appeared on the screen next to Fallon, who pretended to write, "Thank you, Erik and Sadie Bjornsen, for being the first brother and sister to make the U.S. cross-country team. I guess it's just something you were Bjorn to do."

"I think it's probably my biggest accomplishment so far. In skiing at least," Erik said prior to leaving for Pyeongchang. "I'm a big Fallon fan so that was pretty exciting."

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