A bright future for Alaska's next generation of cross-country skiers

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The energy around cross-country skiing in the United States has never been higher, after breaking a 42-year Olympic medal drought.

Anchorage’s Kikkan Randall and Minnesota’s Jessie Diggins became the first women to medal in cross-country skiing – winning gold in an epic women’s team sprint.

Now, what is the future of the sport?

Well from an Alaskan’s point of view, it looks pretty good. The state made up half of the U.S. Olympic Nordic team, and plenty of skiers, like Anchorage’s Scott Patterson, look poised to make a return to the winter games in 2022.

Patterson placed 11th in the 50-kilometer mass start classic race, which is the best American finish for that event in Olympic history.

When you take a deeper look, the future of the 49th State gets even better. Three skiers on the U.S. relay team skied to a historic silver medal in 4 x 5-kilometer relay at the World Junior Championships, in Switzerland this February.

Anchorage's Gus Schumacher, Hunter Wonders and Luke Jager – plus Vermont’s Ben Ogden – joined forces for the best relay finish ever by an American team at Junior Worlds.

"It was pretty clear if the stars aligned," Jager said when reflecting on the race. "It was going to be possible."

Jager and Wonders train with Alaska Pacific University, and Schumacher skis with the Alaska Winter Stars. Prior to the event, this trio of Anchorage skiers had never competed with each other – only against each other, since middle school.

"Beforehand, we were joking around saying, 'Man if we get a medal, we could show the whole world we are here.' And after the fact, we were like, 'Wow! We made it here.'" said Wonders.

The results have not gone unnoticed, from their fellow classmates at school to some of the world's best.

"They had medals at the World Junior Championships – something my generation never did," said Randall in an interview with NBC discussing the sports' next generation. "While I’m sad to be winding down my career, I’m excited to see what they can do."

While Schumacher, Jager and Wonders competed for Team U.S.A. they're not officially on the team, yet. They told KTUU that the next step for the skiers is to make the national developmental team.

Both Schumacher and Jager just wrapped up their prep skiing careers. Service’s Schumacher won Skimeister for the second straight year, while Jager led the West boys to a team title.

VIDEO: KTUU catches up with Kikkan Randall

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