Relay racing in Lillehammer

Jessie updates us on her take of the Women’s 4x5km relay in Lillehammer last weekend. 

Last weekend in Lillehammer was a big one for Team USA…and it’s created a lot of energy and smiles for days afterwards! The 4x5km relay was the third time ever that a US Cross Country team has gotten on the podium, and our men had one of their best days as a relay team as well. Here’s a video highlight of the race (it’s only available for viewing in the US):

 

Third placed US team Jessica Diggins, Elizabeth Stephen, Sadie Bjornsen and Rosie Brennan pose on December 6, 2015 after the 4x5 km realy women cross-country event at the FIS ski World Cup in Lillehammer.   (Photo credit: POPPE/AFP/Getty Images)
Third placed US team Jessica Diggins, Elizabeth Stephen, Sadie Bjornsen and Rosie Brennan pose on December 6, 2015 after the 4×5 km realy women cross-country event at the FIS ski World Cup in Lillehammer. (Photo credit: POPPE/AFP/Getty Images)

For me, the race was actually hard to recall immediately afterwards because I was so in the zone during it. I was totally focused in on what I had to do and how I was going to get up the hill as fast as possible and when I was going to make my passes that the race flew by! But here’s what I do remember: during my warmup I was smiling and in between warmup intervals I’d cheer for Rosie and Sadie as they went by. I was so impressed with the gutsy racing by all my teammates. They were fighting hard for every single second and they never gave up, and even though the icy corners were really stressful for some of them before the race, they got over their fears for the team. I got super inspired watching them race, and it got me pumped up to get in there and do my part!

Then I got ready to go into chase mode. I know that’s how I ski best, when I’m just hunting people down, and I know that I know how to ski relays well because they’re my favorite thing ever. So headed over to the tag zone I had a lot of confidence and the little voice in my head was totally cooperative and cheering me on (this doesn’t happen all the time, just so you know, but it’s something I’m working on).

I tucked right in behind Charlotte Kalla after the tag, and I right away I realized that I felt better than good – I felt great! My body was really working with me and although the icy conditions were sketchy I knew that they played to my strengths because I was ready to just send it down the hill in my tiniest tuck. The course was two laps of a 2.5 kilometer loop, and it had three climbs per lap; two smaller climbs and one long one in the middle with a wicked fast downhill. I passed Sweden on the first lap of the big climb, and then set my sights on the next suit in front of me. Which happened to be Norway 2. I decided before the race to not be intimidated by other skies and what medals and races they may or may not have won, but to see them as suit colors that I just need to get around. Otherwise, I might talk myself right out of the race before it even starts!

Making a move on the first lap up the big climb. (Photo shamelessly stolen from Facebook)
Making a move on the first lap up the big climb. (Photo shamelessly stolen from Facebook)

So when I caught up to Norway 2 around 2.5km, I tucked in until we neared the top of the big climb. I knew I wanted to be in front on the downhill because I wanted to ski it the way I knew I could if I didn’t get intimidated, so I made my move a little before the top and didn’t look back! I did look forward, though, and on the last climb I saw Matt, our coach, totally freaking out. He was sprinting next to me shouting “Here we go, Diggins! This is your job, you’re made for this!” and I was like “#*@% yeah, I am!” and I sprinted as hard as I could into the stadium. I might have been in a lot of pain but I was also totally thrilled and I screamed really loud when I saw my teammates! This was without a doubt one of the best races in my career.

Finish line pain cave. Pretty deep in it at this moment. (photo shamelessly stolen from Facebook).
Finish line pain cave. Pretty deep in it at this moment. (photo shamelessly stolen from Facebook).
On the podium with Norway and Finland!
On the podium with Norway and Finland!

I had three favorite parts to that day. The first was seeing my teammates faces as they were waiting to grab me just across the finish line. I think those looks of excitement, pure joy and disbelief that we’d pulled off a podium when everyone had written us off was worth all the training hours from May till now. Then we got to see our coaches and techs, and they had the biggest smiles! Those dudes work so, so hard and it makes me so happy when we can show off the fast skis they made us. I think the reason relay podiums mean so much to me is because it’s really about the strength of the whole team. It’s not an individual sport that we’re in. It takes so many people to make great races possible – techs, coaches, training partners, teammates, sponsors and club teams – and a relay really highlights that it’s not about a bunch of individuals out there, but a team.

The girls team! Me, Rosie, Liz, Sadie, Sophie and Ida. Minus Caitlin, who was on the other side of the fence. (photo from Sophie)
The girls team! Me, Rosie, Liz, Sadie, Sophie and Ida. Minus Caitlin, who was on the other side of the fence. (photo from Sophie)

My other favorite part of Sunday was seeing the guys after their relay. The order was Andy, Erik, Noah and Simi. They were in 5th until the last few km of the race and they did an awesome job! Erik skied an absolutely brilliant classic leg, and he had the fastest classic time of the day. I’m so proud of him! When we were walking down the hallway on our way to strength, we noticed that there was a glass trophy from the podium ceremony left outside Petter Northug’s door. I guess that guy has a lot of medals already, so he didn’t really need this one and had left it behind. We decided that Erik was the real MVP of the day anyways, so Liz awarded it to him and it’s on the road with us now. Thanks, Pete N., for giving Erik your prize!

Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Erik with his prize. (photo from Liz)
Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Erik with his prize. (photo from Liz)
Erik tagging off to Noah
Erik tagging off to Noah
Simi near the top of the big climb!
Simi near the top of the big climb!

There was more to the week in Lillehammer than just racing, crazy as that sounds! I’ll let the photos do most of the talking from here. We arrived in town on Monday and had some really stellar skiing in Sjusjøen.

Matt took a crazy cool photo of me skiing in Sjusjøen!
Matt took a crazy cool photo of me skiing in Sjusjøen!
Liz, Rosie, Sadie and Ida in Sjusjøen
Liz, Rosie, Sadie and Ida in Sjusjøen
Travel day smiles with Sophie! Classic Noah photo bomb in the background...
Travel day smiles with Sophie! Classic Noah photo bomb in the background…
Andy's Birthday night jog!
Andy’s Birthday night jog!

We had a few awesome jam sessions involving 3 guitars and a harmonica. It made me so happy to hear all that music!

Andy giving us a wonderful guitar concert.
Andy giving us a wonderful guitar concert.
Andrew on guitar and JP on harmonica!
Andrew on guitar and JP on harmonica!
It's a little dark, but Tim and JP were rocking the guitars.
It’s a little dark, but Tim and JP were rocking the guitars.
This life-sized gingerbread house made my day.
This life-sized gingerbread house made my day.

For Rosie’s birthday, Caitlin organized a water color art class for the whole team, that she taught based on a video! It was so much fun, and we made a mess with paint all over (or maybe that was just me?) and it was a great “team tuesday” night.

Ida and I had a very colorful door by the end of the week!
Ida and I had a very colorful door by the end of the week!
Liz and I in Sjusjøen!
Liz and I in Sjusjøen!
Matt working on his insane balance skills on a long downhill!
Matt working on his insane balance skills on a long downhill!
Liz and her famously awesome V1
Liz and her famously awesome V1
Matt waxing up my skis
Matt waxing up my skis
It was practically perfect in every way.
It was practically perfect in every way.

Now we’re in Davos, Switzerland and ready for a double skate weekend (yay!) with a 15/30km skate individual start on Saturday and a skate sprint on Sunday.

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