PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - It has been over 40 years since they won a cross-country skiing medal at the Winter Olympics, but the current crop of skiers from the United States of America are sure that drought will end in Pyeongchang.
The Americans have not celebrated a medal in cross-country since Bill Koch took silver in the 30km race in Innsbruck back in 1976, but after years of European dominance, they are ready to take a spot on the podium.
“It’s certainly within striking distance - it’s right there, it’s available,” skier Sadie Bjornsen told Reuters as the team prepared for the upcoming games, which open on Friday.
“I had some success at the beginning of the season, I had some podiums and I would say on those days I had some of the best wax in the world and some of the best skis in the world, so I think it’s possible,” the 28-year-old said.
Bjornsen, who also competed at the Sochi games four years ago, is currently seventh in the World Cup standings, four places behind team mate Jessica Diggins, while veteran Kikkan Randall, who is taking part in her fifth Games, is in 29th spot.
“I think we’ve definitely learned some things from them (the European skiers) and we’re thankful that they’ve been willing to share information and ideas, and we also like to think that they’ve learned things from us,” Randall told Reuters.
“I think our team spirit has been a little infectious and we’ve seen other teams try to create similar things, so I think it’s a great two-way exchange,” she said.
The 35-year-old Randall spoke of the loneliness she felt when she started out skiing internationally, but in Pyeongchang she is surrounded by a young, ambitious team that now sees itself as being the equal of their Scandinavian counterparts.
“I think we used to get a lot of motivation from being the underdogs, and now we’re in a position when we’re there, fighting beside them. It has helped us lift to a higher level,” Bjornsen explained.
“Since they’re so dominant, I think we get extra motivation to know that we are beating the most dominant. That’s the goal at the end of the day, to beat the Scandinavians,” she added.
The U.S. are not yet as strong on the men’s side, but Sadie’s younger brother and team mate Erik told Reuters that the American skiers were fast catching up.
“I think we saw it last week at the world juniors, the men ended up with a silver medal, not too far behind the Norwegians and of course beating the Russians and the Swedish, so I think we’re becoming one of the strongest teams,” he told Reuters.
Asked if Pyeongchang would finally see an American on the podium, the younger Bjornsen sibling was bullish.
“Oh, it’ll happen for sure. You can count on it,” he said.
Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty