PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) Marit Bjoergen and Kikkan Randall have shared a special bond since competing against each other at their first Olympics in Salt Lake City 16 years ago.
On Wednesday, their relationship turned historic.
Bjoergen won her 14th medal at the Winter Games by taking bronze with her Norwegian teammates in the team sprint, while Randall and Jessica Diggins pulled off a stunning upset to help the Americans capture their first gold medal ever in cross-country skiing.
”For me it is special that Kikkan was here,” said Bjoergen, now the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time. ”We’re both moms, and we have shared lots of things over the many years. And it’s her last Olympics also. It’s special.”
While Bjoergen has been a regular on the Olympic podium over the years, Randall wasn’t. In fact, no American was.
The United States hadn’t won a medal in cross-country skiing since Bill Koch took silver in the 30-kilometer race at the 1976 Innsbruck Games.
Finally, Randall got hers.
”It was hard to make this team and when I got the nod the other day (to race in the event) I knew I had an important job to do,” Randall said.
Randall’s task was to keep the Americans close enough while racing head-to-head against Bjoergen and Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla – arguably the world’s best two female cross-country skiers – for three laps.
She did, and then handed off to Diggins on the final lap.
Diggins, in an amazing display of determination and grit, came from the third position on the final lap to pass Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla on the last big downhill and Sweden’s Stina Nilsson on the final sprint to win by less than two-tenths of a second.
The dramatic finish may have been the highlight of the Olympics for the Americans, who have struggled in almost every sport except snowboarding.
”It feels unreal,” Diggins said. ”I can’t believe it just happened, but we’ve been feeling so good these entire games and just having it happen at a team event means so much more to me than any individual medal ever would.”
After Diggins reached out her foot to cross the line ahead of Nilsson, she fell to the ground and was tackled by Randall, which she called the most amazing feeling in the world.
”This team brings the absolute best out in me,” Diggins said.
The 37-year-old Bjoergen was also all smiles after winning her fourth medal of the Pyeongchang Games.
She took gold in the women’s 4×5-kilometer relay, silver in the 15-kilometer skiathlon and bronze in the 10-kilometer freestyle. She is hoping for her eighth career gold in her final Olympic race – the 30-kilometer mass start on Sunday.
”If someone had told me back in 2002 (at the Salt Lake City Games) that I would still be standing here I would have told them that is not possible,” Bjoergen said. ”But I am here and still fighting for medals.”
She said at some point – after the Winter Games are over – she will think about what she has accomplished.
”It’s hard to understand,” Bjoergen said. ”I think when you are still racing you have to focus on the next race and you don’t look behind you. So I think when I stop I will think about what I have done. But I’m very proud of what I have done.”
Bjoergen joked that her record may not last very long with Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo coming up behind her.
The 21-year-old wunderkind won his third gold medal of the Pyeongchang Olympics in the men’s team sprint, skiing with Martin Johnsrud Sundby to give Norway a 13th medal in cross-country events at this year’s games.
A team of Russians took silver and France edged out Sweden for third.
Klaebo’s win matched French biathlete Martin Fourcade for the most gold medals so far at the Pyeongchang Games.
He also became the fourth male athlete to win three gold medals at the Winter Games before turning 22, joining American speedskater Eric Heiden, Austrian skier Toni Sailer and short-track speedskater Viktor Ahn, who previously competed for South Korea but now races for Russia.
”I could have come here and said I was satisfied with one gold medal,” Klaebo said, ”but that is not how this game works.”
More AP Olympics: https://wintergames.ap.org