Add a splash of hot pink to the red white and blue. And some glitter face paint — lots of that.
On Wednesday morning, Alaskans (at least those who weren’t up in the wee hours to watch it live) woke up to news that Kikkan Randall had teamed with Jessie Diggins to win gold for the United States in the women’s 7.5-kilometer freestyle sprint relay cross-country ski race. It was the first-ever Olympic medal in cross-country skiing for the American women’s team, and first-ever Olympic gold medal for any American cross-country skier. Randall and Diggins join Billy Koch, who won a silver medal in 1976, as the only Americans to win cross-country skiing medals.
That’s a big deal, and we commend Randall, who is from Anchorage, and Diggins, of Minnesota, for the achievement. While the duo won the medal in Pyeongchang, South Korea, we know they earned it with the countless hours of training, in the gym, on roller skis or a glacier in the off-season, or traveling around the world during the competitive season. Randall and Diggins are a testament to hard work and determination.
The two have also made all that hard work look like fun. Randall, who many central Kenai Peninsula residents might remember from her days at East High School in Anchorage, when she regularly competed at Tsalteshi Trails in cross-country running and skiing, is identifiable by her pink hair. Randall and Diggins wore striped knee-high socks for their race, and the glitter face paint has become a pre-race ritual.
And just as commendable as their athletic achievements — perhaps evens more so — has been their willingness to see themselves as role models. There is a whole generation of cross-country skiers who will be donning face paint before big races (we’d be willing to bet that more than a few competitors at the state high school ski meet in Fairbanks this weekend are sporting pink hair and glitter).
“The door has opened,” Randall said after the race. “What I hope this gold medal really means is that those kids dream about being in this position someday, and they feel it’s really possible.”
But Randall and Diggins have inspired more than just skiers, more than women. Indeed, if you’ve watched the video of Diggins’ final charge to the finish line, it’s impossible not to feel inspired to do something great yourself, and inspiration is a powerful thing.
As for the next generation of Kikkan Randalls and Jessie Digginses, we have them here in our community, whether they’re skiers, or they play another sport, or excel in academics or the arts or any other venue for their talents. And they know the formula — inspiration and hard work.
As Diggins said, “Put some face paint and socks on those kids, they’re coming up hot.”