Women’s Olympic Relay

I got a wonderful valentine yesterday from my teammates. I have to admit I didn’t reciprocate. I’ll have to do something for them before the end of the season.

Noah Hoffman's Valentine's Day Card from U.S. Ski Team Women

They served sushi (well, vegetarian sushi) in the dining hall last night. It was excellent.

Olympic Village Sushi

I don’t remember previously seeing this barbed wire on the fence surrounding the village. I’m not sure if I just missed it or if it was recently installed.

Barbed Wire Around Sochi Olympic Endurance Village

It was ladies relay day here at the Olympics. Here is Sadie Bjornsen before heading out for her warm-up. The face paint is a relay tradition for our ladies.

Sadie Bjornsen Before Olympic relay

I did my easy recovery ski right before the race so I could stay at the venue after to watch. I was skiing while the racers were warming up. Here is Canada’s 1st leg skier Perianne Jones:

Perianne Jones Warming Up for Olympic Games Relay

Here are coach Matt Whitcomb and Liz Stephen picking Liz’s race skis:

Matt Whitcomb and Liz Stephen Testing Skis on Women's Relay Day Olympics

Here is Norway’s 2nd leg skier Therese Johaug:

Therese Johaug Warming Up for Women's Relay Olympics

And Johaug’s teammate Heidi Weng:

Heidi Weng Warming Up for Olympic Relay

After my short ski I joined up with the Team USA cheering squad. Here are the girls who weren’t racing the relay but who made a huge difference with awesome cheering (from left to right) Holly Brooks, Sophie Caldwell and Ida Sargent:

Holly Brooks, Sophie Caldwell and Ida Sargent Cheering for women's Olympic Relay

We were in the coaching zone above the stadium. Athletes aren’t really supposed to be on course, but it’s hard to tell us we can’t cheer for our teammates. The organizers didn’t seem to mind even though the coaching zone was crowded.

Crowded Coaching Zone on Olympic Women's Relay Day

The officials were trying to keep us in the coaching zone, but the signs were small and they had their work cutout for them.

Small Coaching Zone Sign Olympics

Here is Simi Hamilton (who will anchor our relay tomorrow) with Sophie:

Simi Hamilton and Sophie Caldwell on Women's Olympic Relay Day

It was a beautiful day for a race, warm again. Here are the ladies lined up to start.

Sunny Day Start of Women's Olympic Relay

I really believe our ladies had a chance to medal today. They were on the podium in a World Cup relay last season and have proven many times that they have one of the strongest teams on in the world. The race went out fast today. Here is Finland’s Anne Kylloenen leading the group up the first hill.

Anne Kylloenen Leading Olympic Relay

In the middle of the first lap they were still all together.

Ladies' Olympic Relay First Lap

Here they are dropping into the stadium. The laps were 2.5 kilometers long and each athlete skied two laps before tagging her teammate.

Leg One of Olympic Relay Dropping into Stadium Women

From a team perspective the relays are the biggest cross country event at the Olympics. Many athletes who weren’t racing came to watch. Here are some of the Norwegians cheering their team on:

Norwegian Cheering Section During Women's Olympic Relay

On the second lap things started to break up. Here is Kikkan changing lanes to try to stay in contact.

Kikkan Randall Changing Lanes in Olympic Relay

We were surprised to see Weng (from Norway) off the back.

Heidi Weng Off Back of Olympic Relay

At the front of the group was the Czech Republic, Germany and Sweden.

Czech Republic Leading Olympic Women's Relay

Unfortunately Kikkan did not have a good day. She blew up in the last kilometer and dropped 40 seconds to the leaders, taking us out of medal contention. Here she is suffering up the last hill.

Kikkan Randall Suffering up Last Hill of Women's Relay Olympics Leg 1

Our cheering squad was still in good spirits. Here are (from left to right) Sophie, biathlete Hannah Dreissigacker, Andy Newell and Ida:

Sophie Caldwell, Hannah Dreissigacker, Andy Newell and Ida Sargent Cheering for Ladies' Olympic Relay

Here are the leaders coming by the Olympic rings at the end of the first leg:

Olympic Women's Relay First Leg Leaders

The Canadians had an even worse day than we did. Here is their second leg skier Daria Gaiazova:

Daria Gaiazova Skiing Olympic Relay

Seeing Norway struggle like they did is unbelievable. None of their skiers raced at their normal level. Here is Johaug:

Therese Johaug Racing Women's Olympic Relay Sochi 2014

Here are (from left to right) Norwegian athletes Ingvild Flugstad Østberg and Kristin Størmer Steira with Sophie and Holly:

Kristin Størmer Steira, Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, Sophie Caldwell and Holly Brooks Cheering Olympic relay

Sadie skied a good race with the 7th split of the second leg.

Sadie Bjornsen Racing Olympic Relay

Here she is going by the wall of American flags:

Sadie Bjornsen Racing by Wall of American Flags in Sochi Olympics Relay

Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland, who won the classic race on Thursday, was flying today. She had the fastest split of the second leg.

Justyna Kowalczyk Racing Women's Olympic Relay

Ida got some T.V. time while waving her flag. (I actually heard I got some T.V. time while taking pictures too.)

Ida Sargent Getting T.V. Time Cheering for Olympic Relay

It looked like brutal racing in the warm temps. Here is Sadie dropping into the stadium to tag Liz.

Sadie Bjornsen Finishing Olympic Relay Leg

By the third leg a solid three-skier lead group had formed containing Sweden (Anna Haag, left), Finland (Kerttu Niskanen, center) and Germany (Claudia Nystad).

Lead Group of Women's Olympic Relay Third Leg

The chasers were Norway (Astrid Jacobson), France (Anouk Faivre Picon) and Poland (Sylwia Jaskowiec).

Women's O,ympic Relay Chase Group Containing Norway

I was really impressed with Nystad who skied better than she has all season to stay with Finland.

Claudia Nystad Racing Olympic Relay

Even though Liz was only near Italy, fighting for 8th place, she was still hammering.

Liz Stephen Racing Olympic Women's Relay

Nystad and Niskanen had gaped Haag by the end of the first lap.

Niskanen and Nystad Leading Olympic Relay Third Leg

Haag seemed to ski a really smart leg. She let the two leaders go and skied her own pace. Consequently she didn’t blow up and didn’t give up too much time.

Anna Haag Racing Olympic Relay

We kept waiting for the Norwegians to make a move and come back into the race, but they looked very average.

Astrid Jacobsen Looking Average in Women's Olympic Relay

Here is Liz with an awesome cheering squad.

Liz Stephen Racing by Awesome American Cheering Squad Olympic Relay

Niskanen put in a big effort to drop Nystad. She had 6 seconds at the end of her leg.

Niskanen over Nystad in Olympic Relay

Here’s Haag holding tough.

Anna Haag Holding Tough in Olympic Women's Relay

And Norway still with France and Poland:

Norway with France and Poland on Third Leg of Olympic Relay Sochi 2014

Liz doing her typical head down charge.

Liz Stephen Head Down Charging in Olympic Relay

Niskanen tagged Finland’s anchor Krista Lahteenmaki.

Finland Leading Olympic Relay at Third Exchange Women

Lahteenmaki has two top-15 results so far this Olympics.

Krista Lahteenmaki Racing Olympic Relay Final Leg

Jessie Diggins skied our anchor leg.

Jessie Diggins Skiing Olympic Relay Anchor Leg

Anna Haag tagged to Charlotte Kalla who took a silver medal in both of the distance races so far in this Olympics.

Charlotte Kalla Racing Olympic Relay

We thought Bjørgen, as Norway’s anchor, still had a chance to ski back into the race. She was only 33 seconds down when she got the tag. However, she was just as average as her teammates. By the finish she had lost another 20 seconds to the leaders. To illustrate how astounding it is to see Norway finish out of the medals, the Norwegian women had not been beaten in a distance relay since the 2009 World Championships. Here’s Bjørgen:

Bjørgen Racing Women's Olympic Relay Sochi 2014

Amazingly France’s Caraline Hugue actually caught Bjørgen and beat her.

Caraline Hugue Racing Olympic Relay

After a great opening leg Russia finished in 6th position. Here is their anchor skier Yulia Tchekleva:

Yulia Tchekaleva Racing Olympic Relay Sochi 2014

Here’s Jessie finishing her first lap:

Jessie Diggins Finishing First Lap of Olympic Relay Anchor Leg

Here are the leaders next to the snowmobile cam:

Olympic Relay Leaders Snowmobile Cam

Here’s Jessie on the first hill of the second lap:

Jessie Diggins Racing First Hill of Second Lap Olympic Relay Leg

Our cheering squad was still hard at work:

American Flag Waving for Jessie Diggins in Olympic Relay

Ida takes her cheering seriously.

Ida Sargent Cheering Jessie Diggins in Olympic Relay

Jessie broke away from the Italian skier. She had 8th place locked up until she accidentally went into the lap lane instead of the finish lane. She had to stop and turn, and Italy crossed the line before us.

Jessie Diggins Finishing Olympic Relay

Kalla was amazing. She caught the leaders from 25 seconds down and out sprinted them to take the gold medal for Sweden. Finland took silver and Germany bronze. Full results are available here.

When I was walking back to the village from the race the German men were hanging a flag to honor their teammate’s medal.

German Men Hanging Flag for German Women Olympic Medal

The women on my team are definitely disappointed. Today doesn’t take anything away from the fact that they are great athletes who have achieved incredible results. Every team is going to have bad days, but it certainly feels like our chances for a medal in these Games are slipping away.

Tomorrow at 2 p.m. Sochi time is the men’s relay. Our team will be led by Andy Newell. Erik Bjornsen will ski second, I will ski third and Simi Hamilton will ski fourth. We are a LONG shot for a medal. My outcome goal for us as a team is to finish in the top eight. My personal goals are to ski with high energy and without tension. I want to start hard but at a sustainable pace. If you’re in the U.S. you can watch the race live on the NBC Sports Network at 5 a.m. Eastern (3 a.m. in the Rocky Mountains) or on NBC at noon Eastern (2 p.m. mountain).