Post-olympic slumber for XC?

Hope not.

Am I done with hero-worshipping Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall? Not quite yet.

Nerdy but kind of awesome:

Following day press conference with Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins (via KTUU)- skip to about 9′ in. The winners of the team sprint discuss Kikkan’s balance of life and skiing, performance and the value of a supportive team and mentors.

The athletes seem so much more human here than in the fancier settings. Randall in particular gets a chance to speak of her experiences without a lot of prompting.

Fun facts and quotes:

  • They really did stay awake or wake up at 3am in Afton MN to watch the team sprint live.
  • Randall’s aunt and uncle were Olympians.
  • Diggins: “I still have Bill Koch’s poster above my bed back home.”
  • Randall: “Not all Olympic sports can be done by the regular person, but everybody can cross-country ski”
  • Diggins: “Focusing on the outcome isn’t what gets you the medal. We had to ski smart, clean races with good tactical moves. We focused on process instead of the outcome.”
  • Randall on returning to skiing as a new mom: “I had to kind of rebuild [fitness after giving birth]. Knowing that this opportunity [to rejoin the ski team] was out there really pushed me to come back”
  • Randall: “Having a son makes appreciate what I get to do as a ski racer so much more… win or lose he was going to be happy to see me and I think that kind of freed me to do my job and have fun.”

Best recap of the team sprint final:

I’m a sucker for this kind of feel-good moment:

I think every father hopes, as Jessie’s dad does, that his kids will be better than they are.

The ad above was done months ahead of the Olympics. Apparently there’s a ton of stuff prepped for use just in case. If you look at the race suits you can tell the competition scenes are from a couple of old World Cup races.

But within a day, Comcast spliced in race shots from the team sprint, as seen in this Adweek video (which also features the finish and immediate post-race reactions).

Skiing for the rest of us:

Post-race article by Cross Country Skier:

  • “This will really be a game changer in the United States for skiing,” [Clay Diggins, Jessie’s father] added. “For Norway it would be another medal. And look at them and the support they have. In America, now this changes everything.”
  • “I’ve been walking on air ever since,” said [Bill Koch, the only other American to win a medal in cross-country skiing] over Facetime. “I’m so ready to pass the torch. The first thing I did was go out for a ski. I was so happy. I was laughing and crying at the same time while I was skiing. I was doing a bunch of wicked intervals. Doing Klaebo technique up the steep uphills. I was so amped!”

Riffing on Kikkan Randall’s comment that everybody can participate in an Olympic sport like cross-country skiing, and also on Jessie Diggins’ statement that the two didn’t focus on the outcome, there was a conversation on NBC Sports about keeping the fun in athletics for longer than is typical in the US:

Jimmy Roberts’ NBC Olympics Daily- day 14 show (subscription or cable service logon required).

About a third of the way in, Roberts and guests from the Aspen Institute and NRK (Norwegian broadcasting) discuss how keeping competition and selection to out of sports until age 13 or so helps late-bloomers and prevents early burn-out.

Excerpted and edited quotes:

  • Tom Farrey, Aspen Institute Sport and Society Program: “Norway has arguably the best sports system in the world, reconceptualized since a gold-less 1988. They don’t keep scores up to age 13, to maintain sport as a development system for all levels.
    “In US, sports is designed by parents who do not truly understand athletic development, or how to sync that up with child development.”
  • Andreas Stabrun Smith, NRK: “[the mother of ] Simen Kruger (gold medal in skiathlon) said he became a good athlete only after 15 or 16. He was just enjoying the skiing.” (Kruger is now 24 years old)

Here’s to the ‘losers’ (bless ’em all):

Washington Post Article. Gold medalist Dario Cologna was a true sportsman and gentleman to congratulate those coming in last in the 15k.

Looking for prodigies:

Americans seem to want the achievement, but like a movie they’d prefer a brief series of short edits to illustrate the process. Maybe what you get out of internalizing and processing the process is what’s important. “The journey is the reward” or destination, or something to that effect.

We can’t all be fast, but we can have fun while internalizing the process of doing something ‘smart and clean, with good moves’.

It’s the langrenn

No surprises:

This gold medal wasn’t a surprise- it was practiced by Randall, Diggins, and the others for years. They just needed the right opportunity.

I don’t generally go in for over-hyped events like the Olympics, but I’ll admit the medal ceremony made me a bit misty-eyed. They so earned it.

Credit: @FasterSkier

Commentariat:

I can’t figure out why this win isn’t front-page news on every site. (Joking- there’s lots of seriously important things happening elsewhere). But I could probably go on and on about this and what it says about ‘the human condition’.

I take issue with the tone of the article by Sam Anderson in the NYTImes magazine, but he did get one thing right: no one keeps going at a sport like this unless they really like it. See this photo gallery from The Anchorage Daily News and you’ll notice from the dates that Kikkan Randall probably took about ten years to get to internationally competitive form.

To me the story is not how surprising this win is, but how justified. If you scan the results of the women’s cross-country team over the last five or so years you see that they’ve been steadily improving. This isn’t the first time US women have gone head-to-head with Kalla, Bjoergen, Nilsson, Falla and the like. It’s the experience and work over those years that got them ready for the moment that happened Wednesday evening.

Viewing the whole race, you can see that the women executed really well, across both the semifinals and the finals. The US men did well in the execution of their semifinal and final, but they didn’t quite have enough to get in striking range of the podium. Yet.

The wonderful part about the win by Diggins and Randall isn’t that they pulled this victory out of their ***, it’s that they worked steadily and persistently for years to get to a place where just a little bit of lightning would make the difference between podium and fifth. We just got to see everything come together at the most absolutely perfect time and place.

Backstory of training from NBC Sports

Some choice bits from Fasterskier:

“I have never seen such a possessed, will-not-lose moment in my entire career”

 

Kikkan Randall: “We have an amazing group of junior skiers and U23 [athletes] that are coming up. They won a medal in the relay at the World Juniors last year, we had another girl that was on the podium twice at World Juniors this year, our junior men were on the podium at World Juniors, so I think the door has been opened.”

Jessie Diggins: “I think I asked [Randall], ‘Did we just win the Olympics?’… but I just was so excited and so happy and also I couldn’t feel my legs.”

Tiger Shaw, U.S. Ski & Snowboard President and CEO: “We were just screaming our brains out in amazement. Just thinking of the energy and the excitement of that I’ll never forget that for the rest of my life.”

Luke Bodensteiner, U.S. Ski & Snowboard Chief of Sport: “Our head coach in alpine texts me said, ‘I have never seen such a possessed, will-not-lose moment in my entire career.’”

Martin Johnsrud Sundby, Norwegian men’s team-sprint winner:”I think all athletes admire the head of Jessie Diggins. That’s fantastic.”
(A slightly puzzling comment but I think he’s referring to having a steady focus and will to win)

Interview with Jessie Diggins and mom by Pioneer Press