When observing results like Jessie Diggins (CXC/USST) has been posting this season from across the Atlantic Ocean, it’s difficult to fully appreciate just how mind-blowing it is when a 20-year-old American starts popping regular top-10s on the World Cup. Some of the magic is lost when you’re not there to witness reported incredulity from European coaches or the post-race celebration of an athlete who has just pushed herself to a level beyond what anyone thought was possible.
Jason Cork, one of Diggins’ coaches at CXC, has had to watch from home as those results come in. Up until this week, he’s relied on live streaming of European broadcasts to watch World Cup races, sometimes before dawn.
On Wednesday, Cork flew to Europe to join the U.S. Ski Team in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic and Szklarska Poreba, Poland to help out the coaching and service staff. We caught him on the phone just before he boarded the plane to talk about Diggins’ recent breakout performances and what he’s looking forward to for his first World Cup gig.
FasterSkier: To start off, would you have expected Jessie to do so well this year?
Jason Cork: No! Not at all—this is pretty unreal. I think she’s kind of like the rest of us; still kind of shocked. I don’t think it’s really set in. Like when she passed [Justyna] Kowalczyk she was just like, ‘I raced, I went really hard—oh, I guess that worked out.’
FS: When you took over the elite team at CXC (in June 2010), did you feel a lot of pressure to successfully develop her talent?
JC: Jessie graduated high school that June, so right after she joined CXC is when I got hired full time, though had worked a bit with Bryan Fish before that.
We also had Garrott Kuzzy and Caitlin Gregg, and Jessie was a really talented young skier, but she wasn’t the one where I was going, ‘Oh boy, don’t mess this one up!’ It was more, ‘This is a project, we’ll see what happens.’
FS: What does this, and the fact that Jessie is from the Midwest, mean for CXC?
JC: I think it adds more legitimacy to the program. We’ve definitely always been strong and recognized regionally, but we can point to her and say, ‘This is our team, this is a local girl.’ I’ve been getting a lot of messages on Facebook, there’s definitely pride in her being from Stillwater. I was at the City of Lakes last weekend, and had people walk up to me and say, ‘Holy cow, that Diggins!’
FS: How do you manage her training when she’s off in Europe or at a USST camp?
JC: Gus [Kaeding] and I are still working with her, and writing plans for her. Usually we make sure with (USST women’s coach) Matt Whitcomb that it works logistically. I’ve just been forwarding him the plans, and we adjust from there. Of course day-to-day if something changes, he’s definitely there as a resource.
[The USST] has been really good about working with us. In some respects they have to—we’re funding her, along with some corporate sponsors. I think they’ve got a good understanding—if clubs are developing athletes, it doesn’t make sense to yank them out of the system. They’ve been very good about that.
FS: And now you’re flying over to Europe. Is this your first time working on the World Cup?
JC: Yeah, on the World Cup. I’ve helped on a few World Junior and Scando trips, but as far as the big show, yeah.
They have a lot of people racing now, and [the USST] decided they needed another set of hands. We have miles that we used for the tickets, then [Chris] Grover said they’d figure out a way to cover the rest of the expenses. It’ll work out. I plan on sleeping on a lot of floors.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.