I remember exactly where I was when Bill Koch won his medal.
The team was at practice on the trails behind the Livermore Falls shoe factory (where my grandmother worked) and we were doing intervals around the bog. Coach Beedy and Coach Miller gave us the news.
For many of my teammates, Bill was a friend. A few raced against him. One raced with him on the World Cup. We all knew his brother, Fritz. And the success of a friend — especially for someone as nice as Bill — is something that’s hard to explain.
But it was the “community” aspect of Bill’s silver that was even more powerful. Let’s face it, cross-country skiing in the USA is a fringe sport. It’s not basketball, football or baseball. It takes place outdoors in the dead of winter. We have to explain it to our friends. And Bill’s success elevated all of us. Yes, we were still nordies, but we were “second place in the world” nordies, thank-you very much.
All of those same thoughts apply to last night.
I will always remember exactly where I was standing when Kikkan and Jessie won their gold medal. Not only was I in the finish area to witness it first hand, but I was surrounded by friends who share this same passion and contributed, either directly or indirectly, to the evening’s success. Grover, Matt Whitcomb, Cork, Robert Lazzaroni, Tom Kelley, Zuzanna, Tiger, Luke, Erik Flora, Eli, Simi, Sophie, Ida, Andy — it’s a long list. There were a definitely a few missing, but I didn’t have to look too far to see a teary face to share the moment.
While I’ve known both athletes for a number of years, I consider Kikkan and her husband Jeff to be close friends. They’re incredible people and there’s truly no one more deserving. It speaks to the character of the person when no less than four Norwegians whispered before the race, “I hope Kikkan wins a medal tonight.” The optimist in me firmly believes that Kikkan’s contributions to the sport over the last 20 years would have been recognized regardless, but having a gold medal in your pocket doesn’t hurt. And I’ll add that there was more than one “I’m so happy for Jeff” in the media building at the end of the evening.
But more than anything else, I hope that there was a 15-year somewhere who heard the news at ski practice and felt the connection to the bigger skiing community. Kikkan and Jessie didn’t just win a gold medal last night, they demonstrated — once and for all — the potential of USA cross-country skiing on the global stage.
Let’s do this again real soon.
P.S. — A number of folks have messaged me — both publicly and privately about the success of the Kikkan and U.S. Ski Team sponsorships by L.L.Bean. Thank-you. For something that started out as “Steve’s Folly,” it seemed to have turned out all right. And a huge shout out to Katie Gould Swenson and Eric Schenker (Craft) who didn’t hang up the phone four years ago…