PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) – It’s been 42 years since the United States won a medal in cross-country skiing.
Andy Newell believes that drought is about to end.
The four-time Olympian sprint specialist said he is so confident in how far the Americans have come in cross-country that it would “disappointing” if they don’t come home with any hardware from the Pyeongchang Games.
“We’re at a point where we can say that now,” Newell said. “For me personally, I would love for that medal to come around my neck, but if it is around any (American’s) neck, we will be equally stoked.”
For an American to even suggest that it would be disappointing to not win an Olympic medal in a sport largely dominated by Europeans is a fairly bold claim. The Americans have been little more than participants since Bill Koch won a silver in 1976 at Innsbruck.
But it’s also a testament to how far they have come.
Jessie Diggins, Sophie Caldwell and Sadie Bjornsen are considered strong contenders on the women’s side, while Simi Hamilton and Newell could be the best medal hopes for the men.
Diggins won the final World Cup race before the Olympics and ranks third in the standings.
She’s been on the rise for a while, capturing two medals at the 2017 World Championships. Diggins and Bjornsen, who ranks seventh in the World Cup standings, teamed up to win bronze in the team sprint classic at last year’s worlds.
“It has been an incredible transformation of our team,” Diggins said. “We used to be lucky just to field the team and now we have so many women that can be a podium threat on any given day. As we push each other it makes everyone stronger.”
Said Bjornsen: “I think suddenly any single person on our team believes that on any single day they can stand on the podium. … When you put a lot of people who are super determined, you can accomplish anything.”
Diggins said there is an unusual, fun-loving, supportive culture on this team, whether it is playing spoons or going for runs together.
“We’ve have never had more fun on the road,” she said. “When we are all having fun that is when we are dangerous on the race course.”
Sophie Caldwell has earned a podium spot twice this year in freestyle sprint.
“I would be over the moon if we can win a medal,” she said.
Hamilton, in his third Olympics, has had several top-10 finishes on the World Cup circuit and, like many American cross-country skiers, is looking to break through at the Pyeongchang Games.
“We have always been an underdog team when it comes to cross-country skiing and we still have the underdog mentality even though we are one of the best teams in the world,” Newell said.