A U.S. ski profile

Kikkan Randal, Jessie Diggins, Ida Sargent, Holly Brooks and Liz Stephen (photo from lizhstephen.blogspot.com <http://lizhstephen.blogspot.com/> )

Exclusive interview with the U.S. Women’s Ski Team

By John Erik Stacy

Seattle, Wash.

American women have again shown that the U.S.A is a cross-country ski nation. U.S. women graced the winner’s podium in Sweden, Finland and Canada – the venues visited so far by the cross-country ski World Cup – and are on a trajectory to repeat their successes as the season continues.

The Weekly caught up with four of these remarkable women by way of Skype as they prepared for their races at Canada’s Quebec City. Here is small sampling of their inspirational stories, supplemented with pictures from their own internet pages.

Kikkan Randall: From Anchorage and skiing with the APU (Alaska Pacific University) Nordic Ski Center, Kikkan is the veteran and highest ranked of U.S. women XC skiers. Kikkan’s first Winter Olympics competition was in 2002 in Salt Lake City. She told of a time when she was “the only girl” from the U.S. and would practice with the men’s team. She added that her aunt Betsy and uncle Chris Haines – Betsy skied in the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid – were among her important inspirations. Her skiing got serious early on, winning state titles for East Anchorage High School (where she also titled in track). Last year Kikkan was awarded the Joska crystal globe as the FIS (International Ski Federation) World Cup sprint champion. This year she again showed the world how it is done as she claimed two gold medals, one for the team-sprint together with Jessie Diggins, and the other in the individual sprint, in Quebec City. Kikkan is now ranked as the No. 1 woman in sprint, but is also a force to be reckoned with in the distance events. She was on the World Cup podium twice in Gällivare, Sweden – first for a 10 km and then in a 4×5 km relay together with teammates Holly Brooks, Liz Stephen and Jessie Diggins – and with a silver medal 5 km in Kuusmo, Finland. In fact, Kikkan finished in the top ten for each World Cup distance event so far this season.

Holly Brooks: From Washington State and with a cabin on Snoqualmie Pass, Holly told of how skiing was instilled in her from an early age by her immediate and extended family. Holly went to high school in Seattle and to Whitman College in Walla Walla. She is also a part of the APU “incubator” and has coached their ski team. Hers is something of a Cinderella story. Although she skied the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, and went on to ski the 2011 World Cup in Oslo, she was not guaranteed a secure spot in the face of U.S. ski-team “ageist” guidelines. Nonetheless, Holly persisted, using her own credit card and fan-club to allow her to participate in the grueling “Tour de Ski” in 2012 – and met the far from trivial challenge of skiing the “Tour” with a broken wrist. Holly has fought on to show that she is a force to be reckoned with, sporting rankings second only to Kikkan on the U.S. team and among the top twenty in the current World Cup ranking. Go Holly!

Sadie Bjornsen: From the idyllic Methow Valley in Washington, Sadie is now an Alaska transplant studying and skiing with APU. She took top titles in the U.S. Super Tour events in Yellowstone and Bozeman while her mates were in Scandinavia, but has joined them now as World Cup continues in Canada. Her early role models include the Methow Valley Olympians Laura McCabe (Nagano 1998) and Leslie Thompson (Calgary 1988 and Lillehammer 1994). Speaking of role models, Sadie said, “Kikkan has kind of brought us all up together.” She described how the synergy between the women skiers – including training sessions not only as a group but also with both Canadian and Swedish teams – has been fostered and enabled by Kikkan’s experience and connections.

Jessie Diggins: The lone Minnesotan in this group of four, Jessie grew up in Afton and went to Stillwater Area High School. She is a junior member, but fully capable of standing up for herself, as she proved in the relay anchor position that gained the team a podium in Gällivare. Diggins has notched more than 100 International races in her young life so far, including the World Cup 2011 in Oslo. She spoke of the Afton area, on the St. Croix River border between Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the Scandinavian influence supporting cross-country skiing. She pointed out that a large number of Midwesterners are recreational skiers and that XC-skiing is an official high-school sport in Minnesota: “Ever since I could walk, skiing has been a part of my life. My family loves being outdoors and active, so we joined the Minnesota Youth Ski League and skiing became a fun way to meet friends and have sledding parties afterwards. Gradually, skiing became a bigger part of my life as I joined the Stillwater High School ski team (Go Ponies!). I had the best teammates and coaches I could have asked for, and they helped me to realize how much I loved the sport.”

Kikkan, Holly, Sadie and Jessie were the skiers that the Weekly caught up to this time around. Liz Stephen and Ida Sargent, both from Vermont, also helped make U.S. ski history; Stephen graced the podium in Gällivare while Sargent posted her World Cup career best sprint in Kuusamo, as well as finishing in the top twenty in the 15 km Skiatholon in Canmore. Neither were U.S. men to be outshone, with Noah Hoffman and Kris Freeman both among the top ten finishers in the 30 km Skiatholon for men. We hope to bring you more about Nordic skiing with an American twist and predict that the U.S. Nordic skiers will continue to impress!

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 21, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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