Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins: That's what friends are for

As part of the #strongertogether campaign 2022, we take a closer look at the friendship that underpinned the USA's first ever cross-country skiing Olympic gold medal.

By Andrew Binner
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

Arguably the most important component to Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall's success at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics, is one that can’t be measured.

In the world of elite cross-country skiing team events, hard work and relentless dedication are simply prerequisites in order to compete.

But to win the USA’s first-ever Olympic gold medal in the sport, something else was needed that can’t be quantified in kilograms lifted in the gym or split seconds on the snow.

“In the final stretch I was just thinking, ‘Go, go, go, I’m giving it everything I had and I’ve got someone who I really love and care about waiting for me at the finishing line and I just want to make her proud," Diggins, referring to Randall, told reporters after winning the women’s Team Sprint event in PyeongChang per People. “Just believing that we had what it took the entire day.”

“We challenge each other and we look for ways to keep it fun,” Randall continued at the time. “Jessie chases us down with glitter on race day, we come up with team dances and we’ve found that this great team dynamic really helps us excel individually.”

This off-snow bond was especially important for Diggins and Randall compared to many of their rivals, as they were competing far from home in Europe for most of the season.

Jessie Diggins on the importance of connections

Despite retiring after the 2018 season, Randall unsurprisingly remains a close friend and confidant of Diggins.

“One of the things I love about our team is that even when you retire from the sport, you still do feel this sense of connection,” Diggins told reporters via US Cross-Country Ski team video call ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

But far from discussing the intricacies of cross-country skiing, it’s the life updates and light-hearted moments away from sport that Diggins loves to hear about most.

“Kikkan sends pictures of [her son] Brad, who's super tall now. And so it's really, really cool. I do feel a really good connection to them.”

“There’s no advice or anything because she knows that I know what to do. And basically, it's more just like the ‘I’m excited for you’ kind of support.”

Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins celebrate during the Team Sprint medal ceremony at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

Teammates momentarily, friends forever

This idea of friendship for life extends well beyond just Randall and Diggins. The Olympic gold medallists are still best buds with all of their teammates from that Olympic cycle, including Liz Stephen, Holly Brooks, Sadie Bjornsen and Sophie Caldwell (now Sophie Caldwell Hamilton).

And this distraction and support would have been especially well received by Diggins in the rocky run up to the Beijing Winter Olympics, that included cancelled competitions, major head colds and a crash at a Tour de Ski race in Val di Fiemme in January.

“I feel like Kikkan and Liz and Holly and Sadie and Sophie are like my big sisters, and I know that they're looking out for me, and I know that I can go to them any time I have questions or anything. And that is a really cool feeling because even when you retire from sport and leave the team, you're not leaving their life. You're just doing different things in your life. But you're still very much a part of each other's lives.

“We actually have a girls group chat with all of our girls going back to maybe 2010. It's pretty cool because we hear from all of them, you know, you have a good race or a good tour and Liz is texting you before the hill climb and giving you good luck. And Holly's chiming in with pictures of her kids.

Diggins’ profile boomed after winning gold in PyeongChang.

Her increased media attention, plus the safety of knowing that she was an Olympic champion, allowed her the space to stop and think about what success meant to her.

Friendship, and how an individual treats their teammates, was high on her agenda.

“For me, success at the Games means crossing the finish line with nothing left in the tank and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that I left it all out there and that I feel confident I can do the other thing,” the 30-year-old continued. “Success also means being a good teammate.

“Who are you off the snow? What kind of person are you? What do you stand for? How do you treat the people around you? That's really important.”

Diggins and Randall enjoyed a fairytale finish at PyeongChang 2018, a memory that is now confined to nostalgia for both. But the friendship that helped them scale those heights continues to thrive, and that is what makes their achievements even more special.

MORE: How Olympic champion Jessie Diggins rebounds from setbacks

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