It was a day gilded in silver and bronze for U.S. women’s cross-country skiers as Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall went 2-3 in the sprint to open the 2017 Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland.
With three skiers in the six-person final – Diggins and Randall were joined by Sophie Caldwell – the event was already a success for Team USA before the race had even started. But as the race neared its halfway point with the three U.S. skiers at the back of the pack, it was apparent that merely placing in the top six wouldn’t be enough. Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla had pulled away into a distant first place and would win gold in 3:02.34, but the battle was on for the remaining spots on the podium.
In the final sprint, Diggins put her elite finishing kick to good use, breaking away to finish comfortably in second in 3:04.00. Randall didn’t have the luxury of comfort, as she battled Hanna Falk of Sweden to the line, finishing several tenths of a second ahead in 3:06.10 to claim bronze. Caldwell finished sixth in 3:07.71. This was only the second double podium for U.S. cross-country skiers at a world championships. The first came in 2015, when Diggins and Caitlin Gregg won silver and bronze in the 10-kilometer freestyle.
"That’s for sure the most fun I’ve ever had in a final. Before we went to the start we did a team cheer. We had such a good energy between the three of us and all of our team that is supporting us," Randall said, according to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. "It was a really magical day for our team."
Though they ended up on the same podium, Diggins and Randall took very different paths to get there.
Diggins, a 2014 Olympian, has had an incredibly strong season and entered worlds ranked fifth in the overall world cup standings. She earned three podium finishes on the world cup circuit this season, including two wins, and finished fifth at the Tour de Ski, tying for the best ever finish by an American. She cruised through to the finals in Lahti, finishing second in her preliminary heat and first in her semifinal after the blazing come-from-behind finish that’s rapidly becoming her trademark. As she was being introduced prior to the final, she grinned and pumped her arms, looking as though she’d already won.
"I hope this inspires people back home. If a girl from Minnesota who just loves to dance and wear sparkles and be silly can do it, they can too," Diggins said. "We’re not a country historically known for cross-country skiing. But we’ve created this women’s team together and worked so hard - and that teamwork really shows. We can be stronger together than we can as individuals."
Randall was much more serious in the moments before the final, looking subdued and focused on the task at hand. In her return season after giving birth to her son Breck in April, the four-time Olympian had yet to podium but was steadily improving her results with each world cup race. She squeaked into the semifinals in a lucky-loser position after finishing fourth in her heat, and finished second in her semifinal after two skiers ahead of her crashed near the finish. But she proved her mettle when a medal was on the line, edging Falk by several tenths of a second to earn her third career world championship medal.
Randall had previously won silver in the sprint in 2009; no U.S. woman had medaled in the event since. Diggins won silver in the 10K in 2015, and she and Randall scored team sprint gold in 2013.
In the men’s sprint, Andy Newell finished 21st. Simi Hamilton finished 28th after crashing in his heat.
Cross-country skiing continues at the world championships on Saturday with the men’s and women’s skiathlon.