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Friday Olympic Notes: Flagbearer, Athlete Rep, Men’s 50 k Starters

The women’s team-sprint medal ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, with (from left to right) Sweden’s silver medalists Charlotte Kalla and Stina Nilsson, American gold medalists Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins, and Norway’s bronze medalists Marit Bjørgen and Maiken Caspersen Falla. (Photo: FlyingPointRoad)

A smattering of Friday Olympic news in advance of Saturday’s men’s 50-kilometer classic mass start race:

Diggins Named Flagbearer

Jessie Diggins will be the flagbearer for the American delegation at Sunday’s closing ceremonies, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) announced earlier today. Diggins will be the first cross-country skier to serve this role for America (although nordic-combined athlete Bill Demong carried the flag at the Vancouver Games in 2010).

Diggins won an election open to all Team USA athletes over the past two days, following her nomination by the national governing body for U.S. skiing. The other six candidates, as nominated by other American sports national governing bodies, were “snowboarder Jamie Anderson, hockey player Meghan Duggan, luge athlete Chris Mazdzer, figure skater Adam Rippon, bobsled athlete Elana Meyers Taylor and Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn,” American cross-country skier Noah Hoffman wrote earlier today.

“This is such an incredible honor for me,” said Diggins in a USOC press release. “I’m really humbled and moved that the athletes voted for me. It’s so inspiring to feel the support and cheering from everyone. The coolest thing for me about the Games has been getting to meet other athletes on Team USA, and getting to cheer them on at their events and learn about what they do. I have so much respect and admiration for everybody here and am beyond honored to be able to lead us out of these Games.”

Randall Elected to Athletes’ Commission

Peer recognition continued to pour in for the gold medal-winning duo this week, as it was announced on Thursday that Randall had been elected to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes’ Commission for an eight-year term.

Randall was elected along with Finnish ice hockey player Emma Terho. She was narrowly ahead of Norwegian cross-country skier Astrid Jacobsen in the final vote tally, although a third athlete may be seated to the commission as well depending on what happens with internal commission logistics over the next several months.

Voting turnout among the 2,919 athletes attending the 2018 Winter Olympics was slightly less than 84 percent.

The commission is a representative body established in 1981 for the purpose of representing athletes and their concerns within the IOC context. The commission’s mission is “to ensure that the athletes’ viewpoint remains at the heart of the Olympic Movement decisions,” says its website.

Randall spoke with FasterSkier last fall about her plans to run for the athletes’ rep position, and what she hoped to achieve in that role.

Randall said at the time that she had “really enjoyed” serving as the cross-country representative to the FIS Athletes’ Commission, and that “to take that experience and expand it to the IOC level would just be really interesting.”

She added, “I think now is a great time to get involved and help strengthen the Olympic movement, get it back to a point where it’s being a good force in the world, because I want to see the Olympics still be important for my children, still be important for your children,” she said. “I don’t want to see the Olympics go away. I’m hoping I can blend my experience having been an athlete at four Olympics, hopefully number five coming up, and then also having worked on the other side, representing the athletes, being in the business side of the sport, and I just think it would be a really cool way to stay involved.”

Randall spoke with FasterSkier again on Friday, following the gold medal and the election, to give more details about what she hopes to achieve while serving on the commission.

Three U.S. Men to Start 50 k

The start list is up for Saturday’s 50 k classic mass start, the longest cross-country race at the Olympics. Switzerland’s Dario Cologna leads out the 71-racer, 32-nation field in bib number 1, followed by Canada’s Alex Harvey (2), Norwegians Hans Christer Holund (3) and Martin Sundby (4), and Alexey Poltoranin (5) of Kazahstan.

Scott Patterson (U.S. Ski Team/APU) racing to 21st in the 15 k skate at the 2018 Olympics. (Photo: FlyingPointRoad)

For the Americans, look for Scott Patterson in bib 29, Noah Hoffman in bib 42, and Tyler Kornfield in bib 57.

Yes, that’s only three racers total, against four possible U.S. start spots for this race.

On his blog, Hoffman explained why one start spot is going unused: “All of the suspense about who was going to start the 50K was for naught. Erik Bjornsen ended up declining his spot because of lingering fatigue from the team sprint and his desire to target races coming up after the Olympics. Paddy Caldwell then declined his spot as well because he is not completely healthy and ready to race after last week’s cold. Andy Newell and Simi Hamilton, both primarily sprinters, also declined to race, and the Hanneman brothers have already left the Olympics. Therefore, we will only have three starters (out of a possible four) in tomorrow’s race. Though this is not the fault of any one person, it is disappointing to leave a start spot unfilled when there are so many great skiers in the US who would love to start this race.”

The 50 k starts at 2 p.m. Saturday local time, 8 p.m. Friday Alaska time, midnight East Coast time. Racers will cover six laps of the 8.4 k “redblue” course, a combination of two courses previously used in these Games. Athletes will face an average climb of slightly less than 37 meters per kilometer, and will climb a total of 1,866 meters, or over 6,000 vertical feet, over the course of the race.

— Gavin Kentch

Women’s Olympic Relay Goes Down Saturday

It’s relay time. Or, as longtime American anchor leg and effervescent team cheerleader Jessie Diggins put it, “Grab your relay socks. Get your glitter. ✨ Favorite day of the whole darn year coming up tomorrow! 🙊” The women’s 4 x 5-kilometer relay goes off on Saturday. Start time is 6:30 p.m. local time, 12:30 a.m. Alaska time, 4:30 a.m. East Coast time. The symbolism is at once both obvious and profound: The strongest American team in, well, ever, working together in the ultimate team event. Longtime team leader Kikkan Randall, in perhaps her last-ever Olympic race of a brilliant five-Olympics career, skiing alongside athletes who grew up idolizing her. Lots going on here. So who’s going to be wearing bib number 4 for the Americans? Sophie Caldwell, Sadie Bjornsen, Kikkan Randall, and Jessie Diggins, in that order. That’s classic – classic – skate – skate, all on the same “blue”…

Olympic Classic Sprint Goes Off Tuesday

Jessie Diggins was frank about the historic stakes involved coming into these Olympics. “We’ve never had a Women’s XC medal at the Olympics,” she wrote in her final pre-Olympic blog post. “You know that. I know that. Your second-cousin-once-removed knows that.” Diggins’s post goes on to outline five process goals that she has going into the Olympics, while leaving the results goals to others but making it clear that she is not afraid to strive for difficult things. U.S. Ski & Snowboard was happy to make those results goals explicit, writing in a video preview of the course, “The cross country team is READY for the Olympic sprint tonight. And they’re hungry for their first medal in 42 years. Let’s do this.” So who’s doing this? Mostly a collection of familiar names, plus one Olympic newcomer. And, in a generational shift, one very familiar name will be cheering from the…

City of Dresden to Host First World Cup on Manmade Loop

DRESDEN, Germany — With the conclusion of the Tour de Ski last Sunday, nearly 120 World Cup athletes gradually made their way to Dresden for the Period 2 of the International Ski Federation (FIS) Cross Country World Cup season. On Saturday, those racers will tackle a brand-new 1.2-kilometer course (it was originally set to be 1.4 k, but shortened due lack of stored snow) in Dresden, which is hosting its first FIS Cross Country World Cup. The entire track is set along the city’s Elbe River, one of Central Europe’s major waterways. According to a course official, there is “no natural” snow on course; only manmade snow will be used for the weekend’s freestyle races (with individual sprints Saturday and team sprints on Sunday). This perhaps makes sense as the races are within walking distance of the city center’s major shopping plaza. Temperatures on Saturday afternoon were around 4 degrees Celsius (39…

U.S. Ski Team Names Tour de Ski Squad

(Press release) Four stage winners will highlight athletes named by the U.S. Ski Team to compete in the upcoming Tour de Ski. The Team heads into the seven-stop tour with optimism based on strong early season results with two different athletes on World Cup podiums. The Tour opens Dec. 30 in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. All events will be streamed live on OlympicChannel.com and broadcast daily on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA with the finale also on NBCSN. The grueling seven-stage tour will cover three stops in three nations over a nine-day period before the Sunday, January 7 finale up the towering Alpe Cermis hill climb in Val di Fiemme, Italy. It opens with three races in Lenzerheide, Switzerland kicking off with a freestyle sprint, followed by classic distance racing and a freestyle pursuit. The Tour then swings to Oberstdorf, Germany for a classic sprint plus mass start skate distance. The…

2019, 2020 World Cup Finals Tentatively Set for Québec City

After a two-year hiatus, World Cup Finals are expected to return to Québec City in March 2019 and 2020, according to Gestev, a Québec-based event management company. A Gestev press release stated that the International Ski Federation (FIS) Technical Committee and FIS Cross-Country Committee meetings are still underway in Zurich, Switzerland, but as of Friday, it had been confirmed that FIS Cross-Country World Cup Finals will be hosted by Canada for back-to-back years in 2019 and 2020. “It’s a huge step forward for Québec City to cement its place on the calendar for two years in a row,” FIS Race Director Pierre Mignerey said in the release. “We should stress, though, that the entire race calendars for both years are subject to FIS Council approval this November.” The 2019 dates are tentatively set for March 22-24. “The format of the 2020 event is yet to be confirmed, but the 2019 competition will…

Live Coverage of Nordic World Champs on NBC

(Press release) LAHTI, Finland (Feb. 15, 2017) – NBC Sports Group is offering nordic ski fans in America the most robust opportunity ever to view their sport with wall-to-wall live coverage of the International Ski Federation’s 2017 Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland. Every event will be streamed live with commentary on NBCsports.com and for the first time, more than 24 hours of same day televised coverage will be broadcast on NBCSN or Universal HD. In total, NBC Sports Group will present more than 60 hours of Nordic World Ski Championships coverage. The expanded coverage is a result of a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) initiative to expand domestic coverage of nordic skiing – cross country, nordic combined and ski jumping. The USSA acquired the domestic rights for the 2015 and 2017 Alpine and Nordic World Championships, subsequently partnering with NBC to carry the programming coverage. The expanded…

Canada Nominates Preliminary World Cup Finals Team

(Note: This post has been updated to include Len Valjas, Knute Johngaard, Jess Cockney, and Graeme Killick as team nominees. They were mistakenly omitted from Cross Country Canada’s original press release.)  Earlier this week, Cross Country Canada (CCC) announced its preliminary selections for World Cup Finals, which will be held March 17-19 in Quebec City, Quebec. According to the press release: “This preliminary selection is based on 7.5.a-e of the Amendment to the Selection Criteria for Competitions (23-Jan.-2017): http://www.cccski.com/National-Ski-Team/Selection-Criteria/Amendment–2—2016-17-Selection-Criteria-for-Comp.aspx#.WKNIE7YrJhE. The remainder of the selection process (7.5.f-g) will be completed after March 5 to allow consideration of all the international race results in February and early March.” The preliminary selections (nine men and seven women) are outlined below. Canada’s Nation’s Cup quota for World Cup Finals is 15 women and 15 men. 2017 World Championship Team Alex Harvey                           NST – CNEPH – Club Nordique Mont Ste Ann Devon Kershaw                      NST – Onaping Falls Len Valjas Knute…

Canada Picks Team for PyeongChang World Cup, Feb. 3-5

Earlier this week, Cross Country Canada (CCC) announced its squad for the World Cup Feb. 3-5 in PyeongChang, South Korea. The long weekend, which serves as a pre-Olympic World Cup, includes three days of racing: a classic sprint, skiathlon and team sprint. According to a CCC, the following athletes were selected based on results at the U.S. nationals trials races held earlier this month at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah (selection synopsis): Andrea Dupont                       Rocky Mountain Racers Annika Hicks                          AWCA – Canmore Nordic Sadie White                            Thunder Bay NTDC –  Big Thunder Len Valjas                               NST – Team Hardwood Jess Cockney                           NST – Foothills Nordic Bob Thompson                        Thunder Bay NTDC – Team Hardwood Julien Locke                            AWCA – NST – Blackjack Simon Lapointe                       CNEPH – Skinouk Brian McKeever                      Para-Nordic National Ski Team Trip leader: Charles Castonguay

U.S. Amends Selection Criteria, Expands Quota for World Cup Finals

With the 2017 World Cup Finals being moved to Canada, both Canada and the U.S. get to enter more athletes in the last races of the 2016/2017 World Cup season. The U.S. Ski Team (USST) benefits from what USST Head Coach Chris Grover explained in an email as a “1/2 Nation’s Group” quota, granting a total of 23 starts to the U.S. On Friday, the USST posted an amended selection criteria for World Cup Finals, which will take place in Québec City from March 17-19. (More on USSA selection criteria) “Because these races were originally scheduled to be in Russia, we did not have a selection criteria for a Nation’s Group in place,” Grover explained. “Because we have USA athletes currently racing all over the planet, and participating in various race series, this criteria is intended to provide multiple paths to qualifying for Quebec City, including World Cup, the Lahti World Champs, the…