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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 sideline.

The U.S. women currently boast one of the strongest sprinting teams in the world. Five athletes are ranked in the top 50 in the current Sprint World Cup rankings: Sophie Caldwell (3rd), Sadie Bjornsen (7th), Diggins (9th), Ida Sargent (19th), and Kikkan Randall (21st).

Qualification for the women’s 1.25-kilometer sprint starts Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. Korea time. Bjorsen will be on the course at 5:31 p.m. in bib 4. Diggins (bib 15), Caldwell (bib 18), and Sargent (bib 21) follow within the next four-plus minutes.

Five serious sprint contenders (all five athletes have World Cup sprint podiums to their names) plus four Olympic start spots per nation equals one well-credentialed athlete cheering from the sideline. In this case, it will be Randall, who has finished 36th and 42nd in her two classic sprint qualifiers this year.

Sprints were added to the Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City in 2002. Randall raced there, finishing 44th in qualifying as a 19 year old. She also raced in 2006, 2010, and 2014. Tuesday will mark the first ever women’s individual Olympic sprint event contested without Randall.

The Canadian team has entered three women: Dahria Beatty (bib 33), Emily Nishikawa (bib 44), and Cendrine Browne (bib 48). On the men’s side, it’ll be Alex Harvey (bib 15), Len Valjas (bib 39), Russell Kennedy (bib 46), and Jess Cockney (bib 52).

Harvey is a 2015 World Championships silver medalist in the classic sprint and also earned bronze in the classic sprint at 2013 Worlds. In the two World Cup classic sprints he’s raced this season, Harvey’s best result is 21st. He currently ranks 18th in the Sprint World Cup rankings.

On that same Sprint World Cup rankings list, the U.S. has Simi Hamilton in 14th, Andy Newell in 36th, and Erik Bjornsen in 56th.

Hamilton will be the first American and second athlete on the men’s 1.4 k course Tuesday night, pushing through the start wand for qualifying at 6:15:15 p.m. wearing bib 2. He will be followed by Newell (bib 21), Bjornsen (bib 34), and Logan Hanneman (bib 44).

Hamilton, Newell, and Bjornsen are all U.S. Ski Team members, longtime World Cup starters, and multiple-time Olympians. Hanneman earned his first World Cup starts earlier this season, after narrowly edging out older brother Reese Hanneman as the best qualifier at U.S. nationals. In his only prior World Cup classic sprint, the Fairbanks native and Alaska Pacific University skier finished 35th in qualifying last month in Planica, Slovenia, less than two seconds out of making the heats.

Qualification starts at 11:30 p.m. tonight Alaska time (3:30 a.m. Eastern), with the heats starting at 2 a.m. Alaska time Tuesday (6 a.m. Eastern), and the finals at 3:25 a.m. (7:25 a.m. Eastern). 

Start lists: women | men

Viewing guide

— Gavin Kentch

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