USA Second in Lillehammer Team Relay
The U.S. Cross Country Team of Sophie Caldwell, Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, Rosie Brennan and Jessie Diggins battled to a second-place finish in Sunday’s FIS Cross Country World Cup 4x5k team relay in Lillehammer, Norway.
“It is always an incredible day when we land on the podium as a team,” Sadie said. “Putting four perfect legs together is a huge achievement, which is why winning a team medal is so special. I am really proud of all the girls today. It has been a few years since our group has stood on the podium for the 4x5km relay, so we were quite excited!”
Fresh snow along the Birkebeineren skistadium course provided the athletes an additional challenge Sunday. “We woke up to a solid snowstorm making for some messy and slow racing,” Rosie said. “Luckily we prepared for this and had the team we thought would handle that kind of racing best. Relays are so fun and also stressful because you never know what's going to happen until it's over, so it requires everyone to give their best no matter what place or what is happening around you.”
Team Norway 1 took the victory, followed by Team USA 1 at 48 seconds back, and Team Sweden in third one minute, 19 seconds off of the winning time.
Right from the start, Team Norway 1 took the lead with Maiken Caspersen Falla leading the charge. Sophie opened the race for Team USA 1, skiing the first of two classic legs, and finishing seventh, but keeping her team in the fight at just 26 seconds off of the pace. Tagging off to Sadie, Team USA 1 moved up to fifth on the second leg.
“With the falling snow, it made it extra challenging out there,” Sadie said. “But everyone on the team just kept their heads down and ground their way towards the front. I think my favorite part about the relay is that anything can happen. Regardless of where you are in the pack during your leg, you have to fight for every single second, because things are constantly moving and shifting.”
Therese Johaug (Team Norway 1), who won Saturday’s skiathlon, opened up a slight gap over both Team Sweden and Team USA 1 in the third leg.
“Sadie tagged me off in a place where I could visually see teams in front which was exactly what I needed to get a solid chase going on,” Rosie said. “I love the grind of slow days so I just started to grind away and I quickly realized that I was gaining time, so I just kept the grind going. I was working hard to catch Sweden and couldn't quite get there but at least tagged off to Jessie with them within sight and she's not someone you want to race against on relay day so I had full faith in her ability to reel them in.”
The final exchange was first reached by Team Norway 1 before Sweden (+48.9 sec) and USA 1 (+57.6 sec). Jessie managed to catch up to Team Sweden's Moa Lundgren in the first lap of their final leg but neither managed to close the gap to the head of the race, led by Norway’s Heidi Weng. In moving her team into second though Jessie posted the fastest 5k lap of the day at 14 minutes, 37 seconds. Eight seconds faster than the second-fastest 5k time posted by Norway’s Therese Johaug.
The U.S. Cross Country Team entered two teams in the relay, but a nagging cold kept Hailey Swirbul out of her race suit as she was scheduled to ski the final leg for Team USA 2 with teammates Julia Kern, Rosie Frankowski, and Caitlin Patterson. However, she still played a huge role in her teammate's success.
“Big thanks to the larger team outside the four of us that helped put this day together,” said Sadie “Hailey got sick this week, but was out on the final climb screaming ‘you can do anything for one minute.’ It helped me find one more gear to bring it home. That is a sure sign of an incredible teammate. Our team is at the level it is right now because of the belief and support like this.”
In the men’s 4x7.5k relay, U.S. Cross Country Team of Erik Bjornsen, David Norris, Scott Patterson and Kevin Bolger finished ninth. Team Russia 2 won the race, followed by Team Russia 1 in second and Team Norway 1 in third.
Up next, the FIS Cross Country World Cup tour moves to Davos, Switzerland for the first freestyle sprint of the season on Saturday, Dec. 14, and 1 10k freestyle for the women and 15k freestyle for the men on Sunday, Dec. 15.