Sadie Bjornsen (left) and Sophie Caldwell (right) congratulating Jessie Diggins at the finish of the 4x5 km relay. (Getty/AFP-Michal Cizek)
NOVE MESTO, Czech Republic (Jan. 24, 2016) – The U.S. women’s cross country team skied to a second place finish in the FIS World Cup 4x5k relay on Sunday. It was the best ever U.S. women’s relay finish, as strong opening classic legs set the team up for success.
“There has been an amazing vibe on our team this year, so we are showing up at the start line ready to fight!” said Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA), who skied the second classic leg. “It's fun to feel like the top is in reach and we are continuing to chase that top step! I'm really proud of everyone.”
Sadie Bjornsen, Jessie Diggins, Sophie Caldwell and Liz Stephen celebrate their second place. (Getty/AFP-Michal Cizek)
In the women’s relay, Norway grabbed its tenth consecutive World Cup relay victory by 42.1 seconds over the U.S., who finished second. Finland was third. In the men’s 4x7.5k relay, Norway claimed first place, just six seconds ahead of Russia. Italy sprinted to third to steal the spot from Germany.
Right from the start, the U.S. women were tactical and settled into good positions to allow them to fight and move into better spots throughout the race. Sophie Caldwell (Peru, VT) and Bjornsen led the first two legs of the relay, each skiing to third - some of the best classic legs ever in a women’s relay.
“The scramble leg (opening leg) was a good fit for me,” said Caldwell. “My goal was to fight as hard as I could to stay with the group and not to blow up in order to tag Sadie off in a good place. Norway’s Ingvild Oestberg took off the second lap, but I was able to stay with our little chase pack and come into the tag right in the mix.”
Caldwell and Bjornsen’s efforts set up Liz Stephen (East Montpelier, VT) and Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) to continue the battle with Finland who had been challenging the U.S. women for second. Stephen broke away from Finland in the third leg and once Stephen tagged to relay anchor Diggins, she was able to add even more time to the lead between Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen. By the finish, Diggins gained 13.8 second, to claim a convincing second place.
An ecstatic Jessie Diggins anchors the relay to second place. (Getty/AFP-Michel Cizek)
“My tactic for the final leg was to take it out as fast as possible to put time between myself and Finland,” said Diggins said. “Going into the second lap I skied a little more carefully once I knew it was locked in because I didn't want to bobble or make any mistakes.”
The U.S. men’s relay team had an impressive comeback. Erik Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) was able to move the team up from 12th to sixth in the second leg, but anchor Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) was unable to hold on and was bumped back to finish eighth overall.
The U.S. women finished second in the 4x5k relay - their fourth relay podium in the last five competitions.
The U.S. women have yet to win a relay, but have finished on the podium in three of the last four World Cup relays.
Norway did not participate in Rybinsk, so Norway is undefeated in a ladies’ relay in the World Cup for more than six years, since Sweden beat Norway at home in Beitostølen in November 2009.
Norway has won eight of the last 10 men’s relays held on World Cup, World Championships and Olympic Games. Russia and Sweden have also won in the last 10 races.
Jessie Diggins I am just so proud of our whole team! My tactic for the final leg was to take it out as fast as possible to put time between myself and Finland, and the second lap I skied a little more carefully once I knew it was locked in because I didn't want to bobble or make any mistakes. It was such a wonderful feeling crossing that line and skiing straight into the arms of my teammates, and knowing that we just accomplished something big as a team.
Sophie Caldwell I was really looking forward to the relay today. I enjoy following people in races and trying to conserve energy, so the scramble leg was a good fit for me. My goal was to fight as hard as I could to stay with the group and not to blow up in order to tag Sadie off in a good place. Ingvild took off the second lap, but I was able to stay with our little chase pack and come into the tag right in the mix.
Sadie Bjornsen What a fun day today! It has been an amazing vibe in our team this year, so we are showing up in the start line ready to fight! Soph set an amazing pace on the first leg, so I knew my goal was to break up the other teams that were hanging on, and work with Finland to get closer to the Norwegians. We had great skis today, so I just had to go out and ski my heart out! Then Liz finished with some seriously impressive skiing, and Jessie pulled her usually amazing finishing leg.
It's fun to feel like the top is in reach, and we are continuing to chase that top step! I'm really proud of everyone out there today, including our men!
Chris Grover – U.S. Cross Country Ski Team Head Coach Incredible opening leg by Sophie to ski with those ladies and bring us in with the second fastest team. This was Sophie's first time on our no. 1 women's relay team and she crushed it. She had the third fastest opening leg and the other three ladies all had the second fastest legs respectively. Liz made a move early in her leg to open up a small gap from Finland. At that point, she never looked back and was able to widen the gap to five seconds at the exchange.