Three U.S. teams inspired one another and the rest of the world with gutsy, historic and hard-fought performances at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall won the first medal for the U.S. women’s cross-country skiing team, upending Olympic favorites for the gold. The men’s curling team did the same in a fashion more often played out in Hollywood than reality. And after 20 years, the women’s ice hockey players finally were the ones to throw their sticks in the air in celebration as they reclaimed the gold.
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To vote for Diggins and Randall, the men's curling team or the women's ice hockey team in the Team USA Awards presented by Dow, Best of Games, visit TeamUSA.org/Awards before 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday, March 16.
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Winners will be announced during the Team USA Awards presented by Dow, Best of the Games, on Thursday, April 26 in Washington, D.C.
Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall
Sport: Cross-Country Skiing
Olympic Highlights: After winning their semifinal and earning lane 1 in the final of the women’s team sprint, the race came down to the final hundred meters. With the U.S., Sweden and Norway neck-and-neck, Sweden’s Stina Nilsson, who won gold in the individual sprint, moved to the front with Diggins on her heels. Then in an incredible, nearly superhuman push down the final stretch, Diggins passed Nilsson with one meter left, thrust her ski over the line and won the gold medal by just 0.19 seconds.
PyeongChang Legacy: The U.S. women had never won an Olympic cross-country medal, let alone a gold. Given that the U.S. first sent a women’s cross-country team to the Games in 1972, that’s a lot of years of coming up empty. Bill Koch won the only other Olympic cross-country medal for the U.S. with his silver in 1976.
Fun Fact: Diggins, 26, was chosen by her Olympic peers to carry the U.S. flag in the Closing Ceremony. She’s the first cross-country skier to serve as the Closing Ceremony flag bearer for Team USA.
What Might Be Next: This was the fifth and last Olympics for Randall, 35, who couldn’t have asked for a better ending. Diggins will continue on and no doubt lead and inspire the next generation of American cross-country skiers.
Olympic Highlights: The U.S. men, led by skip John Shuster, didn’t look as if they were on the road to gold when they opened the curling tournament 2-4 in round robin. In fact, it appeared they might be closer to the last and next-to-last-place finishes of the past two Olympics than to a medal. But they beat three-time Olympic champions Canada, then Switzerland, then Great Britain to reach the semifinals. There they beat Canada again before upsetting Sweden in the gold-medal game, 10-7, for Team USA’s first curling gold medal.
PyeongChang Legacy: Team Shuster will be remembered not only for winning, but for doing so in true underdog fashion. After initially not being accepted into USA Curling’s high performance program a few years earlier, they made the Olympics and then knocked off three-time defending champion Canada in the semifinals and then defeated Sweden, ranked No. 1 in the world, in the final for their fifth consecutive win.
Fun Fact: Shuster credited victories by Diggins and Randall and the women’s ice hockey team for inspiring them going into the gold medal game, as well as a more unlikely source: Mr. T. The ’80s icon fell in love with the sport over the course of the Games, tweeting #curlingiscoolfool, and phoned the team to say good luck before their final match.
What Might Be Next: If someone isn’t already hard at work on the screenplay based on this year’s team, lovingly referred to in curling circles as “The Rejects,” and its improbable, come-from-behind victory, someone should be. This is a movie waiting to happen.
U.S. Olympic Women's Ice Hockey Team
Sport: Ice Hockey
Olympic Highlights: When the U.S. and Canada meet, it almost always comes down to the wire and the gold-medal game was no exception. The U.S. trailed before Monique Lamoureux-Morando tied the score with less than seven minutes to go in regulation. Then came overtime, then came a shootout. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson (Monique’s twin sister) scored in the sixth round of the shootout, goaltender Maddie Rooney stopped Canada’s Meghan Agosta and the celebration began. It was Team USA’s second Olympic gold medal and their first since women’s hockey was added to the Games in 1998.
PyeongChang Legacy: Team USA came into the 2018 Olympics with an enormous amount of pressure. Since losing to Canada in overtime in the gold-medal game of the 2014 Olympics, they’d won all three world championships and all three Four Nations Cups, beating Canada for gold every time. Yet it was their rivals from the north who’d won in every Olympics since the U.S. took the inaugural gold 20 years earlier. The victory also came after the team successfully fought for more equitable treatment and pay in relation to the U.S. men’s team last year.
Fun Fact: Among the celebrities rooting on the team this year were the stars of television’s “This Is Us,” who posted a good luck video to social media prior to the gold-medal game. Ellen DeGeneres hosted the team upon their return and surprised them with the announcement that she was going to hang their jersey in her studio.
What’s Next: The women’s victory tour continues across the country and in individual players’ hometowns.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.