Americans Make History With X-C Win

Quebec City — Between Quebec’s Parliament building and the fortification wall guarding Old Quebec, Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins did what no American cross country ski team has ever done. They won a World Cup team sprint.

On a soft course of sugary manmade snow, Randall crossed the finish line first, 0.9 seconds ahead of Germany in second and Norway in third. Taking three turns each, two laps per turn, Diggins and Randall finished the race in 21:49.5 to Germany’s 21:50.4 and Norway’s 21:50.6.

“Watching Kikkan that last lap, she looked so smooth and not tired,” said Diggins. “I don’t know how she felt, but I was like, she’s got this, if nobody takes her out.”

From the gun, Diggins stayed near the front of the 10-team field. She and Randall maintained this strategy until Diggins’ last lap. Then Diggins, a 21-year-old phenom from Minnesota, shot into the lead. She tagged Randall, a 29-year-old veteran of three U.S. Olympic teams, and the Alaskan held the lead until the line.

“You can plan about half the strategy, and the second half is just to react to what’s going on around you,” said Randall. “We wanted to be sitting in the pack, conserving energy and then put a big push on at the end. I think we were both able to do that really well.”

Though a historic win, it did not come as a surprise. The U.S. women finished second twice in World Cup team sprints last year. Randall and Sadie Bjornsen took second in Duesseldorf, Germany, last December. Then in January 2012, Randall teamed with Diggins, and they finished second as well, despite Diggins crashing.

This time, the Minnesotan was “psyched to stay on my feet,” she said. “It’s always been a challenge for me. It’s hard when people get really aggressive. I’ve been learning how to hold my line, don’t take any crap, keep the tag zone really clean.”

Head coach Chris Grover was psyched that the women handled the pressure of being favorites — if not on home snow, then close to it. American flags and Dartmouth Big Green coats were ubiquitous around the short, looping course.

“These women knew they were some favorites, they knew there was pressure on them,” he said. “It’s historic for us. It’s our first win in team sprint ever. Last year was our first podiums ever in team sprints. So these two have clearly arrived in this event.”

Ida Sargent and Holly Brooks also qualified for the final. But after Sargent crashed twice during her second leg, the two finished ninth in 22:25.5.

First, a Russian skier fell on Sargent as the skiers went over a small jump on the course. Then after the fall, the American couldn’t get the back of her Pilot binding to click, making it hard to control her ski. She came around the final corner and slid out.

“We were so far off the back, it was impossible to catch up,” said Sargent, who graduated from Dartmouth in June. “I have so many friends and family out there. To fall twice in one leg, and then I fell in the semifinal too. It was not my day to stay up on my feet.”

Brooks was more philosophical about their performance.

“It wasn’t a great race for me and Ida,” she said. “But to see Kikkan and Jessie take the overall and the win, that makes it all worth it.”

Along with Sargent, other Dartmouth skiers competing this weekend here include first-timers Corey Stock, Sophie Caldwell and Patrick O’Brine along with Becca Rorabaugh and Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess.