Breakthrough puts USA cross-country on the map

PYEONGCHANG - It was a day for the record books on the cross-country course on Wednesday as USA athletes Jessica DIGGINS and Kikkan RANDALL, and Norway's Marit BJOERGEN (NOR), made history in their own ways.

Forty-two years after Bill KOCH (USA) won silver in the men's 30km classic, the USA pair surged past BJOERGEN and her teammate Maiken Caspersen FALLA (NOR) in the ladies' team sprint free to snatch the USA's first-ever Olympic Winter Games cross-country gold medal.

And in grabbing the bronze medal, BJOERGEN became the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time, having won 14 medals since her Olympic debut at Salt Lake City 2002. Her tally comprises seven gold, four silver and three bronze medals.

"For sure we wanted gold but I am really happy for the USA taking the gold medal," BJOERGEN said. "They are happy girls and it is important for our sport that USA is there."

The impact that the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games gold will have on the sport in the United States was at the top of many people's minds at Alpensia Cross-Country Skiing Centre.

"One of the biggest thrills for her (DIGGINS) is the visibility this will give to cross-country skiing in the US. It's huge," Deb DIGGINS, Jessica's mother, said.

"That was probably their biggest goal, more so than their personal gold. This will be a game-changer in the United States. For Norway, it would be just another medal but in America this changes everything."

The delighted Deb DIGGINS then revealed that her daughter has had special motivation for as long as she can remember.

"She still has his poster on her wall - Bill KOCH sand-skiing in Hawaii," Deb DIGGINS said. "It was my poster. She stole it and put it in her room."

The family has been living a "Nordic lifestyle" ever since Jessica got the cross-country racing bug in her teens, according to her proud parents. The fact that she has now eclipsed her idol in the team event came as no surprise to another of her biggest rivals.

"They are always strong when they work as a team," silver-medal-winner Charlotte KALLA (SWE) said. "Kikkan and Jessie took the gold medal in 2013 (at the world championships). They were one of the big favourites."

For RANDALL, who had never finished higher than sixth in any race over four previous Olympic Winter Games, this has long been the focus.

"What really kept me going over the last four years was trying to contribute to a team medal," said the 35-year-old, who was also part of the USA team that finished fifth in the ladies' 4x5km relay at PyeongChang 2018.

"In 2013 when we won the world championships I saw that a team gold is worth far more than any individual accolade."