PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Kikkan Randall ploughed a lonely furrow in U.S. cross country skiing for years, but her diligence was rewarded on Wednesday when relay team mate Jessica Diggins dug deep to deliver the gold she had dreamed of since her first Olympics in 2002.
Faced with the awesome sprinting power of Norway’s Marit Bjoergen, now the most successful winter Olympian in history, and Swedish snow queen Charlotte Kalla, Randall held her own to tee up Diggins for the decisive final lap.
“Around that final corner I felt like I was coiling a spring and letting it go, digging as deep as I could and putting it out there, because when you’re team is counting on you, you don’t give up - ever,” a delighted Diggins told reporters.
“I just felt unstoppable, I’m in the best shape of my life right now for sure. That feeling of being able to cross the line and having Kikkan tackle me was the coollest thing ever,” she added.
For Randall it was a well-deserved payoff for years of traveling alone on the World Cup circuit, struggling to gain a foothold for the U.S. in the face of European dominance.
“It’ a dream come true ... I got to see in 2013 when we won the world championships that a team gold is worth far more than any individual accolade,” Randall said.
“What really kept me going over the last four years was to try and contribute to a team medal here, and to do it here with Jessie one more time, it’s amazing.”
The 35-year-old was given a place in the relay team ahead of younger prospects, and she used all her experience to keep cool under pressure.
However, she admitted to an attack of nerves as her 26-year-old partner headed for the final straight.
“It was a nail-biter all the way up to that finish line. When Jessie won I looked over at the scoreboard and saw United States number one, and just let out a big scream and just ran over and tackled Jessie,” Randall said.
Randall may have been the underdog for many years, but the confidence of Diggins at these Games has ushered in a new era for the sport in America.
“It’s a dream come true for her and a dream come true for the U.S. cross-country skiing team,” Diggins’s mother Deb told Reuters.
Reporting by Philip O'Connor, editing by Ed Osmond