Dec 07 Oh, Canada!

By Peggy Shinn | Dec. 07, 2012, 7:30 p.m. (ET)
cross country skiingJessie Diggins leads Ida Sargent (#18) and Sadie Bjornsen in the women's semifinal of the team sprint.

QUEBEC CITY, Q.C.—With glitter on their cheeks and wearing bright pink head bands, Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins made history in Quebec City.

The two American cross-country skiers won a World Cup team sprint.

On a looping course in the Parc de l’Esplanade between Quebec’s Parliament building and the fortification wall guarding lovely Old Quebec, Randall held off the Germans and Norwegians, who finished second and third, respectively. The American crossed the finish line almost a second in the lead and raised one finger: #1.

“Watching Kikkan that last lap, she looked so smooth and not tired,” said Diggins, who took the lead during her final turn, then tagged Randall for the final two laps. “I don’t know how she felt, but I was like, she’s got this, if nobody takes her out.”

But unlike a few weeks ago when the U.S. women took third in a 4x5km relay, they did not leap for joy or pile upon each other in the finish corral. This one almost felt expected—the next logical step. The U.S. women finished second twice in World Cup team sprints last year: Randall and Sadie Bjornsen took second in Düsseldorf, Germany, last December, then in January 2012, Randall teamed with Diggins, and they finished second as well, despite Diggins crashing during a handoff.

“We were one of the favorites to do well in this event,” said head coach Chris Grover. “Then you add that Kikkan is coming off a couple distance podiums already this year. That really illustrates what her fitness level is. And we’ve seen Jessie build her fitness over the past two to three weeks. These women knew they were some favorites, they knew there was pressure on them. 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.”

From the start under the Port Saint-Louis, a stone gate in the fortification leading to Old Quebec, Diggins stayed near the front of the 10-team field. She and Randall maintained this strategy until Diggins’s last lap. Then Diggins, a 21-year-old phenom from Minnesota who only graduated from high school two years ago, 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.

“We wanted to be sitting in the pack, conserving energy and then put a big push on at the end,” said Randall. “I think we were both able to do that really well.”

Excited with her first World Cup win, Diggins was also relieved to have stayed out of trouble on the course. In the team sprint in Milan, Italy, last January, she stumbled over another skier in one of the handoffs and fell into Randall, causing the Alaskan to backtrack to ensure the tag was completed properly. It was her first team sprint.

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

Ida Sargent and 2010 Olympian Holly Brooks also qualified for the final. But after Sargent crashed twice during her second leg, the two finished ninth.

First, a Russian skier fell into 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.

“Then we were so far off the back, it was impossible to catch up,” said Sargent, who graduated from Dartmouth College 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.”

Diggins’s and Randall’s win today was just another star in Team USA’s stellar season on the cross-country skiing World Cup, which started with the team relay win in Gaellivare, Sweden, on November 24.

“Expectations have changed in the realm of three weeks,” said Brooks, who finished fifth in a 10km freestyle World Cup race in Gaellivare. “It used to be a top 30 was good. Now we want top 10s. This does a lot, just making the final. That’s the next step. I had hoped we could put two teams in the top five.”

Two skiers in the top five could come as soon as tomorrow, when the men and women compete in the individual sprint in the Parc de l’Explanade.

Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.

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