TOBLACH, Italy — It’s that moment, that realization, when you’ve beaten the Norwegians — your most immediate threats.
That’s a memory that will likely stick with American Jessie Diggins, a three-time Minnesota state champion, who, at the age of 24 won her first World Cup on Friday at the sixth stage of the Tour de Ski in Toblach, Italy. She became the second American woman to do so in the last three races on the Tour (after teammate Sophie Caldwell won the Stage 4 classic sprint), and the first U.S. female to do so in a modern World Cup race longer than 3 kilometers.
“I’m still in shock!” Diggins said in an in-person interview with FasterSkier after winning the women’s 5-kilometer freestyle individual start by 0.9 seconds in 13:15.5, holding off later-starting Norwegians Heidi Weng, Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, Ragnhild Haga, Therese Johaug, respectively.
The victory also stood as her first individual World Cup podium, although Diggins has been on the World Championships podium twice before: first with Kikkan Randall in the 2013 freestyle team sprint (which they won) and then individually last season at 2015 World Championships in Falun, Sweden, where she placed second in the 10 k freestyle. In December 2012, before World Championships that season, Diggins and Randall teamed up to win a World Cup freestyle team sprint in Quebec City.
“What’s so cool about this team is we ride on each other’s successes. Seeing Sophie do it [on Tuesday], we all train together, and we can do this!” Diggins said. “We just kept it going and yeah, I mean obviously I had some pretty incredible skis out there and it really shows the strength of the team that we push each other so hard to get to this point where we can start putting together really good races like this.”
Diggins went out in bib 24 and ousted Germany’s Denise Herrmann from the lead at the finish by 15.7 seconds. Smiling and shaking her head as she sat on the ground, Diggins looked like she knew she had a good race. But a World-Cup-winning kind of day?
“This was a big surprise for everyone, most especially me; I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it,” Diggins said in a televised interview with FIS.
Her splits at just two timing points on the course ranked fourth at 1.7 k and third at 2.1 k. Just before the halfway point at 2.1 k, her time trailed Østberg’s by 8 seconds.
But Diggins proved fastest over the second half of the course, holding off Weng in bib 42 as her closest challenger, 0.9 seconds back. The overall World Cup leader, Østberg ended up third (+1.5), Haga fourth (+8.4), and Johaug fifth (+9.6).
She now ranks 10th after six of eight stages in the Tour, 6:50.2 behind Østberg, who extended her lead over Johaug by 25.3 seconds. Teammate Sadie Bjornsen ranks 13th overall (+7:58.8) after placing 13th on Friday, 25.7 second after Diggins.
Also for the U.S., Liz Stephen placed 26th (+41.5) and ranks 25th overall, Rosie Brennan finished 33rd (+54.4) for 34th in the Tour and Caitlin Gregg was 39th (+1:05.7) for 39th overall.
Stay tuned for more details and a complete report.
— JoJo Baldus contributed reporting