Solidifying themselves as a World Cup force, Anchorage's Sadie Bjornsen and her American teammates made history Sunday by claiming the silver medal in a relay race in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.
The second-place finish was the best in U.S. history, and it marked the second time this season Bjornsen and her teammates climbed the podium to collect a medal for a top-three relay finish. In December, the U.S. women claimed bronze in Lillehammer, Norway.
"What a fun day today," Bjornsen said by email. "It has been an amazing vibe in our team this year, so we are showing up in the start line ready to fight
"… It's fun to feel like the top is in reach, and we are continuing to chase that top step."
On Sunday, that top step was 42.1 seconds away and occupied by Norway, whose women haven't lost a World Cup relay race since 2009. The Norwegians dominated the 4x5-kilometer mixed-technique race in 50 minutes, 17.2 seconds.
Bjornsen, who skied the second leg, teamed up with Vermont skiers Sophie Caldwell and Liz Stephen and Minnesota's Jessie Diggins to finish in 50:59.3. Taking the bronze was Finland, which finished 13.3 seconds behind the Americans.
Bjornsen, Stephen and Diggins all skied the second-fastest times in their respective legs. Caldwell was third-fastest in hers.
Sunday's achievement marked the fourth time the American women have earned a medal in a World Cup relay. Their first two came in 2012 and 2013, when Anchorage's Kikkan Randall was the leader of the team. Randall, a trailblazer who is the most successful cross-country skier in U.S. history, is pregnant and sitting out this season.
Stephen and Diggins skied on all four medal-winning teams. Bjornsen skied on three, Randall skied on the two and Anchorage's Rosie Brennan (2015) and Holly Brooks (2012) each skied on one. All of the Anchorage skiers train at Alaska Pacific University.
On Sunday it was Caldwell's turn to pocket a relay medal. She skied the scramble leg, during which Norway's Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg forged a big lead. Caldwell was close behind Finland when she tagged off to Bjornsen.
"Soph set an amazing pace on the first leg, so I knew my goal was to break up the other teams that were hanging on, and work with Finland to get closer to the Norwegians," Bjornsen said. "We had great skis today, so I just had to go out and ski my heart out."
The United States was still in third place after the two classic-technique legs. Freestyle skiers Stephen and Diggins carried the team into second place.
"It was such a wonderful feeling crossing that line and skiing straight into the arms of my teammates, and knowing that we just accomplished something big as a team," Diggins said in a press release from the U.S. Ski Team.
Big things have become almost expected when the American women go into a relay. Besides their four World Cup medals, they have finished fourth at the last two World Championships, in 2015 and 2013. Bjornsen skied on both of those teams too, joining Randall, Stephen and Diggins in 2013 and Brennan, Stephen and Diggins in 2015.
In Sunday's 4x10-kilometer men's relay Sunday, Anchorage's Erik Bjornsen and Scott Patterson helped the Americans to eighth place. They finished 1:13.6 behind Norway, which won in 1:08.29.
Patterson skied the scramble leg and tagged off to Bjornsen – Sadie's brother – in 12th place.
Bjornsen skied a strong leg to put the Americans in sixth place after the two classic legs. Freestyle skiers Noah Hoffman and Simi Hamilton were both eighth after their legs.