GAELLIVARE, Sweden (Nov. 25) – The U.S. Cross Country Ski Team made history Sunday, scoring its first ever FIS World Cup relay podium in a women’s 4x5k team event in Gaellivare. In a race where each of the four U.S. women needed to have their best ever 5k races, Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) outsprinted Norway II into the finish to claim third with Norway taking the win over Sweden. After a solid opening classic leg by Holly Brooks (Anchorage), Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) put the team into podium position with a powerful freestyle leg by Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) setting the stage for Diggins to bring home the podium.
“We’ve known this was possible for a long time,” Randall said. “We just knew it was going to take each of us putting together the right performance on the right day and we could be in the fight for the podium. Today everything came together. Holly (Brooks) skied a really gutsy first leg. She hung right in there and kept us eight seconds form the lead. Liz did an incredible job in pulling Norway a bit closer. We knew Jessie was capable of a really strong last leg but there’s a lot of pressure. She had been skiing with everything she had and was able to find that extra gear and pull it out at the end. It was one of the strongest waves of emotion I’ve felt in a while.”
The U.S. Cross Country Ski Team’s historic first ever relay podium was a challenge. Norway I, anchored by Olympic champion Marit Bjoergen, took a solid win with a 19.6 margin over Sweden with Olympic champion Charlotte Kalla skiing final leg. Jessie Diggins skied anchor for the USA finishing 8.8 seconds behind Sweden and a half second ahead of a hard charging Norway II.
Brooks opened the first of two classic legs with a solid performance, 11.2 seconds out in eighth. Randall moved the USA into clear podium position with the fastest leg time and into second, 8.2 seconds behind Norway I. Randall skied strategically with the pack then found an opportunity off a corner to take a line on the leader, skiing the fastest classic leg of the day. Stephen skied a powerful opening freestyle leg to expand the lead over Sweden and come within 4.2 seconds of Norway I at the handoff to Diggins.
Diggins went out anchoring knowing that Kalla would likely move up to second, but kept a focus on a head-to-head battle with Norway II, earning the podium for the USA with a strong finish sprint.
The U.S. women had scored a previous best last winter in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic finishing fifth without an ailing Randall.
The U.S. men were 15th in the 4x7.5 relay.
The World Cup now heads to Kuusamo, Finland for the opening sprints of the season.
“Our women’s team sat down last spring and drew up some goals, one of which as a relay podium sometime this season,” Brooks said. “Little did we know that we would accomplish it on our first try. We shed lots of tears today as a group and they were tears of joy. The day, the result, everything was truly a group effort.”