BY BRUCE STEINBERG
Of permanent importance, the answer to the question: who were the first US cross-country skiers to win a gold medal in the Olympics? The answer is Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins. This is the correct answer today, tomorrow and forever.
Of personal importance to their families, friends, neighbors, coaches and fans, hearing their names will bring an extra oomph to so many smiles.
Concerning their importance in the media, Jessie was a guest on NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me’s not-my-job segment which, to my way of thinking, means that her fame is rock solid. She got to confront Paula Poundstone’s dis of cross country skiers and then stood toe-to-toe with her making the audience laugh. She had to answer three questions, as an ace skier, about Skee-Ball, the classic arcade game. Meanwhile, Kikkan’s web site (kikkan.com) shows her sharing precious smiles with her baby boy. So much concerning Kikkan is about being successful as a mom and wife while being successful in other aspects of her life, which includes her being the president of Fast and Female. This organization helps empower many young women, giving voice and access to their goals.
As to their importance to teamwork, I remember watching their sprint race, how tough they both were. When Jessie edged out Stina Nilsson of Sweden for the gold, the images that followed remained irresistible: raw power, pure joy, unmatched strength and grace. When Kikkan rushed to Jessie, the two of them showed their bond as teammates. Kikkan has other notable racing firsts for American women, but this was the Olympics and this victory was theirs.
In their past failures to reach the podium, Kikkan and Jessie showed integrity, blaming no one while crediting the winners. In victory, they extended their achievement to their coaches, teammates, families and friends, their home towns and their fans. Try to watch their race, their finish, their post-race reaction and then try not to feel a little bit better about the world. So important— their show of humility in both victory and defeat.
The importance of being Kikkan and Jessie heads toward their futures. While Jessie plans her course of training and racing for competitions leading up to the 2022 winter Olympics in Beijing, Kikkan was elected by her Olympic peers, who voted during the February competition, to the International Olympic Committee. She will serve during an eight-year term with 19 others, as a link between the athletes and IOC leadership. She was also chosen as a board member for the US Olympic Committee.
Two other matters of importance—
First, while roller skiing one March weekend, I had turned into a slight uphill rise to a cul-du-sac. There, playing in front of a home, were a mother and her two children. The siblings, a boy and a girl, couldn’t have been older than five. They stopped what they were doing to watch me—the roller skis, boots, ski clothes, poles, sunglasses and helmet. Both children ooh’d-and-ah’d, yelling at their mom to look. They kept shouting, “What is that? What’s he doing?”
Their mom said, “He’s cross-country skiing on wheels—just like what Jessie and Kikkan do when there’s no snow, to train to win Olympic gold medals.”
I laughed, “Well, not just like them and no Olympics for me.” I also stopped to say, “You can watch Kikkan and Jessie win the gold on YouTube.”
The “Can-we-mom?” came out their mouths with enthusiasm and they hurried into their home. I have no doubt that these children saw what young women can achieve, being strong, determined, powerful, smart and brave. They will see how they won their gold with class, speaking highly of their competitors as well as of all the people who helped get them to the Olympics. Both the sister and brother saw exactly what women can do, encouraging a great attitude in the girl, and also in the boy to respect the unlimited nature of what girls can accomplish. In addition to their Olympic gold, Kikkan and Jessie are adorned with the important gold medal of positive influence, already well underway.
The last matter of importance about being Kikkan and Jessie?
Since their victory, despite many days out on my roller skis, I have experienced not one person shouting at me, “Where’s the snow?!”
Coincidence? I think not!
And for that, I am also so very grateful.