PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (NBC) - Not since Bill Koch won the first Olympic medal in cross-country skiing for the U.S. back in 1976 in Innsbruck – a silver – has a U.S. team looked more ready to make a play at the podium.
The best chances for the U.S. rests with the women’s team, specifically Jessie Diggins, who makes her second Olympic appearance in PyeongChang ranked third in FIS World Cup overall standings.
“We are heading into the Games with the strongest team we’ve ever had and I’m so proud of this team for all the hard work that has gone into making the Games,” Diggins said according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard.
Diggins’ teammates also find themselves among the top 10 in FIS point rankings. Sadie Bjornsen sits four spots back on the overall list in seventh, while Sophie Caldwell is third in the FIS World Cup sprint rankings.
In Sochi, Caldwell was the first U.S. skier to race in an Olympic sprint final, man or woman, since the event was raced at the Olympics for the first time in 2002 at the Salt Lake City Olympics.
Kikkan Randall, the matriarch of the U.S. team, made her Olympic debut in Salt Lake in 2002 and returns for her fifth in PyeongChang, the most of any U.S. cross-country athlete.
“I am especially excited about this team going into 2018 as the strongest cross country contingent I’ve ever been a part of, Randall said according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard.
“We have the potential for some great individual performances from multiple members of the team and I know we’re all really looking forward to being contenders in the relay events.”
Leading the men’s team will be a pair of sprint specialists. Andy Newell makes his fourth Olympic appearance for the U.S., and Simi Hamilton is set to ski in his third.
Erik Bjornsen, the U.S. team’s top distance contender, joined forces with Hamilton to finish in fifth in the team sprint four years ago in Sochi. Erik Bjornsen is the younger brother of Sadie Bjornsen.
“Erik and I have been working beside each other since we were young kids racing each other to the finish line, Sadie said according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard.
“The Olympics were just a dream for us for so long and here we are in a whole new dream as we are headed to the Games with goals of winning Olympic medals!”
Two other sets of siblings will ski for the U.S. in PyeongChang – Scott and Caitlin Patterson and Logan and Reese Hanneman.
The family connections continue with a set of cousins, Sophie and Patrick Caldwell. The Caldwell name carries weight in Olympic cross-country skiing, with Patrick’s father (Sophie’s uncle) skiing for Team USA at the 1976 Olympics, and their grandfather John Caldwell doing the same in 1952. The elder Caldwell is often referred to as the father of U.S. Nordic skiing after writing the first U.S. how-to book on the sport in 1964 titled, “The cross-country ski book.”
Cross-country skiing opens on February 10 at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games with the women's 15km Skiathlon with competition wrapping up on February 25 with the women's 30km mass start. Twelve events in all, six per gender, will be contested in PyeongChang.
2018 U.S. Olympic cross-country skiing team
Sadie Bjornsen, Winthrop, WA
Rosie Brennan, Park City, UT*
Sophie Caldwell, Peru, VT
Jessie Diggins, Afton, MN
Rosie Frankowski, Anchorage, AK*
Anne Hart, Stillwater, MN*
Kaitlynn Miller, Craftsbury Common, VT*
Caitlin Patterson, Anchorage, AK*
Kikkan Randall, Anchorage, AK
Ida Sargent, Orleans, VT
Liz Stephen, East Montpelier, VT
Erik Bjornsen, Winthrop, WA
Patrick Caldwell, Lyme Center, NH*
Simi Hamilton, Aspen, CO
Logan Hanneman, Fairbanks, AK*
Reese Hanneman, Anchorage, AK*
Noah Hoffman, Aspen, CO
Tyler Kornfield, Anchorage, AK*
Andy Newell, Shaftsbury, VT
Scott Patterson, Anchorage, AK*
*designates first Olympic appearance