Leave no doubt to your imaginations, Jessie Diggins, in-form and yellow-bibbed as the World Cup leader, stamped her authority on the 2021 season with gusto in Falun, Sweden. She won the 10-kilometer individual skate on Friday in 23:35.9.
This was Diggins’s eighth individual win on the World Cup — all have been in skate.
With the sun hanging on the horizon and unable to warm the air above squeaky-snow-cold, this was a key opportunity to shine for Diggins. One would assume, and perhaps not incorrectly, that this would be another Therese Johaug win. The Norwegian star has been a near, if not certain lock, for distance wins in recent years.
At 4.4 k, Diggins and Joahug, who began in bib 57, while Diggins started 31st, were in a virtual tie: Johaug came through the time check pipping Diggins by 0.5 seconds.
Yet 2.3 kilometers later, Diggins flexed, building an 8-second lead over Johaug. That flex was intermittent as Johaug, as she does, roared back and clawed those eight seconds back to lead by 0.1 seconds at the 7.7-kilometer mark.
Talk about tension builders as Diggins sat in the leader’s chair, knowing that the preeminent women’s skier of this generation was hunting yet again for a win. With 0.9 kilometers to go, Johaug led by 1.1 seconds over Diggins. The high tempo, the palmarès, the legacy, all that remains in place for Johaug. But on this day, she faded by two strokes of the second hand to place second (+2.1) behind Diggins. As U.S. Head Coach Matt Whitcomb noted in a post-race interview, with such a small lead at the top of the course (the apex of the “big Morderbakken”), he felt confident, although not certain, in the win for Diggins.
Falun has been kind to Diggins. She won a silver medal here in the 2015 10 k skate World Championships race. Also in Falun, she placed third in the same event in 2019.
“Wow, it’s really crazy, I cannot really believe it,” Diggins told FIS after the race. “I think if I had to design the perfect course for me this would be it. It was cold. I had amazing skis, the downhills were so fun they were so crazy, and the uphills are so hard, I was just thinking it was like a video game for me.”
Second place remains an atypical position for Johaug. The stats speak for themselves.
- Johaug has won 66 World Cup distance races, a record.
- Since the 2018/2019 season, Joahug has won 29 of the 33 distance races she has contested.
- Of the last 16 skate distance races she has entered on the World Cup, Johaug had won them all, a streak extending back to March 2016.
Sweden’s home squad was represented by Ebba Andersson on the podium, in third, 14.6 off Diggins’s time.
The U.S. had two other skiers in the top-10: Rosie Brennan finished eighth (+59.1), and Sadie Maubet Bjornsen 10th (+1:01.5). This was Maubet Bjornsen’s first World Cup race of the season as she had decided to focus on training and school during the early part of the World Cup schedule.
“We skied a very confusing 10k course that had us on three different loops so being aware was very important,” emailed Brennan. “We also saw transformed, man-made, and fast snow for the first time this season. Despite the very cold temperatures, the snow was fast and the course had some tricky downhills to navigate as a result. I love individual start races so I wanted to start hard and see what my body had in it as we move further away from the Tour de Ski. My body felt better than last week so things are coming along and on track for being in top shape for the World Championships. I am pleased with my effort today and for holding a steady pace throughout the race.”
Beyond the three skiers in the top-10 for the U.S., Sophia Laukli placed 41st (+2:18.4), Caitlin Patterson 42nd (+2:19.5), Katharine Ogden 48th (+2:33.1), Julia Kern 55th (+2:50.7), and Alayna Sonnesyn 58th (+2:52.2).
Post-Race Interview with U.S. Head Coach Matt Whitcomb.
Canada entered four skiers in the race, with Cendrine Browne placing in the points for the second consecutive weekend. Browne placed 23rd (+1:44.4). This was Browne’s career-best individual World Cup result.
“Today I knew my legs weren’t 100%,” Browne emailed. “But as my coach Louis says, sometimes you can have bad legs and still have a good race. I also knew there would be a lot of one skating in the course; my specialty. So I focussed on that, putting a lot of energy into the flats and gradual sections. And it paid off! I’ve always loved this course because of all the one skate sections! My first top 30 was here 3 years ago.
“In today’s race, I pretty much skied alone during the whole race. Stupak, who was starting behind me, caught me on the Murderbaken when there was approximately 1km left to the race. I stuck with her and I’m glad I did because that last hill was very difficult.”
Also for Canada, Katherine Stewart-Jones placed 36th (+2:11.2), Dahria Beatty 59th (+2:52.3), and Laura LeClair 66th (+3:26.2).
Results: Women’s 10 k Skate
Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.