A month after winning Olympic gold as teammates, Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins faced off Sunday in Vermont with a national championship on the line, and it was Diggins who carried her relay team to victory.
Trailing by 11 seconds after three legs in the 4×5-kilometer mixed-gender relay, Diggins powered past Randall to lift Stratton Mountain School to a 13-second win over Alaska Pacific University.
Diggins, 26, caught and passed Randall, a 35-year-old who is racing in the final ski series of her career, midway through their leg on the cross-country ski trails in Craftsbury Commons, Vermont.
APU's first three skiers – Erik Bjornsen, Sadie Bjornsen and Scott Patterson – each posted the fastest times of their respective legs, but the lead they built was no match for Diggins, who just wrapped up one of the best seasons in history by an American skier.
"We knew it was going to be tough going against Stratton today based on how they were skiing all week and we knew it would be key getting a little time going into that last leg," Randall said in a news release from U.S. Ski & Snowboard. "Scott gave us the gap and I was hopeful going into the last lap. I tried to put the pressure on, but Jessie caught me at about 2.5k. She had a bit more and pulled away to take the win."
Diggins, a two-time Olympian, and Randall, a five-time Olympian, teamed up to win America's first gold medal in cross-country skiing in the team sprint at last month's Winter Olympics in South Korea.
In the season-ending World Cup races that followed the Pyeongchang Games, Diggins clinched second place in the women's overall standings, the best finish by an American since Bill Koch captured the crystal globe as the World Cup overall champion in 1982.
Diggins skied her 5K leg Sunday in 13 minute, 8.8 seconds to lift Stratton Mountain to a winning time of 53:43.2. Randall had the second-best anchor time, 13;32.3.
APU finished second in 53:56.4, comfortably ahead of third-place Craftsbury Green Racing Project (54:39.4), which featured Patterson's sister Caitlin skiing the anchor leg.
Two other APU teams also finished in the top six, the only club in the nation with three teams in the top 10.
Finishing fourth in 55:47.2 was the team of Tyler Kornfield, Rosie Brennan, Logan Hanneman and Rosie Frankowski. Placing sixth in 56:43.0 was the team of Reese Hanneman, Becca Rorabaugh, Eric Packer and Hannah Halvorsen.
In the first leg, Erik Bjornsen – the winner of Saturday's 15K race — finished two-tenths of a second ahead of Stratton's Simi Hamilton.
Sadie Bjornsen, who is also coming off a career-best season, placing sixth in the World Cup overall standings, won her leg by more than seven seconds over Stratton's Sophie Caldwell.
And then Patterson outskied Paddy Caldwell by more than three seconds to give Randall an 11-second head start over Diggins.
The race series, and the season, wraps up this week with two more national championship events — the women's 30K on Tuesday and the men's 50K on Wednesday.
Randall will head home to Anchorage after that and will be honored for her gold-medal performance at an April 4 celebration at Town Square beginning at 5 p.m.