‘Finally’ was the buzzword as American Kikkan Randall made history at the Winter Olympic Games.
The 35-year-old, in her 18th event of her Games career, ended what had been an elusive pursuit of a medal in the women’s cross-country team sprint free.
Randall paired up with close friend Jessica Diggins and they not only won a medal – they claimed gold by the smallest of margins in a thrilling finish in Pyeongchang.
The result was vindication for a lifetime of work for Randall, who gave birth to son Breck in 2016, and wiped away tough memories from the 2014 Games in Sochi.
After winning World Cup sprint titles in 2012, 2013 and 2014, Randall was tipped for individual success in Russia only for a back injury to compromise her performance.
She was unsure she would compete in South Korea given her pregnancy but the Alaska woman not only made it to the Games – she claimed the biggest prize.
“It was this team event, this race in particular, that really motivated me to go for one more Olympics,” she told TODAY once the euphoria had died down, if only a little.
“[This event] really pushed me through my comeback after having my son.
“It’s just so cool. I hope it gives a lot of inspiration to all the moms out there that you can come back to being active and physical and stronger than you’ve ever been.”
Shortly after the event, Randall was struggling to comprehend the magnitude of her victory.
“Hearing it out loud, it still doesn’t feel real,” she said, according to the New York Times. “It’s what I’ve been working on for 20 years and with this team for the last five years and wow.
“It’s just so fun to put it together tonight, finally.”
The United States had never won a cross-country skiing medal in a women’s event and Randall hoped her victory would encourage more participants back home.
“The door has been opened,” she said.
“What I hope this gold medal really means is that those kids dream about being in this position someday, and they really feel it’s possible.”
A crazy finish
While Randall’s persistence was the story behind the medal, it was Diggins’ brilliance at the end that captured victory for the United States.
Leaving the final hill she was in third place and went for broke, gambling on an ultimately successful move that saw her veer outside the track before overtaking Norwegian Maiken Falla.
And then, on the home straight, she chased down Sweden’s Stina Nilsson and nudged in front to claim victory by just 19 hundredths of a second.
Diggins had competed in four previous events at these Games, finishing in the top six in all, but without a medal to show for her consistency.
“It feels unreal – I can’t believe it just happened,” she said afterwards.
“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.”
Randall’s one-year-old son is not at the Games, instead reportedly staying in Canada, but will get to see his mother’s new medal in a FaceTime call in the next few days.