In the final World Cup race before the 2015 World Championships, Jessie Diggins led the American women’s team by taking 17th in Sunday’s 10-kilometer freestyle individual start in Östersund, Sweden.
Diggins finished 1:47.7 behind winner Charlotte Kalla of Sweden, who posted a time of 23:26.1 in front of a large home crowd. Marit Bjørgen of Norway took second (+36.4) to seal her fourth overall World Cup title, while Norway’s Therese Johaug placed third (+53.6).
Diggins had the fifth-fastest time at the 1.8 k mark, but slowed to 14th by 6.8 k into the race.
U.S. Ski Team (USST) Women’s Coach Matt Whitcomb said in a phone interview, “You might look at the pacing and say, ‘There’s an athlete that went out too hard’ … but I look at it as, there’s an athlete that went out and tried to win a race.”
He explained that while Diggins faded throughout the race, he preferred her intense approach to a more conservative start, adding that she showed integrity and her body responded well to her effort.
“Seventeenth is a great result, and I know she felt good and looked good doing it. So I’m excited for her,” he said.
Diggins could not be reached immediately for comment.
Liz Stephen, who placed fifth overall in the 2015 Tour de Ski, ended up 26th (+2:08.6).
“I was not checked into race mode either in the body or the head, so I have a bit to work on over the next week,” Stephen wrote in an email.
She explained that the course was difficult and consisted of many steep climbs and fast descents, in addition to some icy spots under a layer of crushed corn snow. However, with the large crowd of fans, she wrote that it made for a great ski-racing atmosphere.
“I am feeling good, physically and mentally,” she explained. “I am really excited to be heading to Falun tomorrow and can’t wait to get the World Champs started.”
Whitcomb said that while they were hoping for a stronger race, he is not concerned about Stephen’s performance. He remains confident about where she is heading into World Championships.
“My guess is that we need a couple more significant doses of rest – a day here, a day there – before her first target event at World Champs, which will be the skiathlon. And the plan has that in it already, so no emergency action will be taken,” he said.
Rosie Brennan took 32nd (+2:26.6), a day after finishing 33rd in the classic sprint. She was 2.7 seconds from cracking the top 30.
Brennan wrote in an email that she felt she had a decent day, but thought some parts of the race could have gone better. She explained that she enjoyed the course’s steep-and-numerous uphill sections but struggled in the downhills and “undulating terrain.”
“They lost a lot of snow here last week so most of the course was fast, manmade snow breaking down into sugar-like snow,” she wrote.
Brennan added that she feels confident about her fitness and training, and that it was great preparation for World Championships to race twice this weekend.
“After a few weeks off racing, it usually takes me a race or two to get back in my groove,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, Kikkan Randall finished 33rd (+2:27.7), 3.8 seconds out of the top 30.
She explained in an email to the press that she had a strong start and found a rhythm in the first lap, but found it difficult to “kick it into full race gear.”
“While the pace was not as aggressive as I had hoped to find today, the feelings were a lot more positive than earlier in the season. This confirms that my preparation over the past month has been productive. Now it’s just a matter of getting my body back into race mode,” she wrote.
She added that the weekend was a good boost as she prepares for the World Championships classic sprint on Thursday.
Overall, Whitcomb said Sunday was not a confidence-building day, especially as the team looks toward World Championships. He said the team would prefer to enter Worlds with season-best results.
“But the fact is, no one race can capture where we are as a team,” he explained. “We’re leaving Östersund with some really valuable feedback, and we feel perfectly comfortable with where we need to be right now … We’re an eager team, and we’re really looking forward to putting on a show in Falun.”