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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 closing ceremonies of the Vancouver Games in 2010, and biathlete Lyle Nelson was the flagbearer for the opening ceremonies at Calgary in 1988).

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

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