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This is a story that might make Jessie Diggins cringe. We’re here to render her efforts to the singularity of cross-country ski results. (A quick nod – her default is to defer to her team, and to only reluctantly ruminate on herself.)
Last month, with the conclusion of racing in Ulricehamn, Sweden, and the subsequent canceling of World Cup races in Nové Město, Oslo, and Lillehammer (although the Oslo weekend was replaced with two distances races in Engadin, Switzerland), American Jessie Diggins had locked up the overall World Cup. She’s the first American woman to win the overall crystal globe. Back in 1982, Bill Koch became the first American to win the overall.
Diggins’ season has been dreamy. She won the Tour de Ski. She barely missed out on two medals at the 2021 World Championships when she placed fourth in the 10 k skate and the 4 x 5 relay (but oh so close). Diggins stood on eight podiums this season before Engadin and bested one of the world’s greatest ever distance skiers, Norway’s Therese Johaug, in Falun, Sweden’s 10 k skate, the first time an athlete has raced faster than Johaug in the format since 2016.
This is as good a time as any to address the elephant in the room: the dearth of Norwegian starts on the World Cup due to the pandemic. Norway pulled from World Cup competition after the opening weekend, only to rejoin the circuit on January 23rd in Lahti, Finland. Compounding Norway’s decision, Finland pulled skiers post-Ruka (the opening weekend) until the Tour de Ski, as did Sweden. But, you race against those who show up.
Diggins showed up. And she showed up during this funk of a dryland season having not been on snow until arriving in Europe in November.
Her Ruka, Finland races, the start to the World Cup season, ended with a 15th overall (fifth fastest time of day in the pursuit) in the three-race series. On to Davos, Switzerland, where she placed 13th and then 7th on the weekend. In Dresden, Germany, she placed fourth in the sprint. The points began to accumulate. After Dresden, Diggins was 8th overall in the overall World Cup standings with 191 points, whereas her teammate Rosie Brennan led with 377 points.
If you’ve followed Diggins’ career, you’ll know she warms into the season. She often finds better form in the Tour de Ski. There she opened with a third-place sprint. She followed up with a third, first, first, third, ninth, and 10th, then second on the final mass start climb. She won the Tour, a first for a North American, with Russian Yulia Stupak second, and Sweden’s Ebba Andersson third.
With her flurry of points scored during the Tour, Diggins came away as the yellow-bib-wearing overall World Cup leader with 932 points to Stupak’s 802 in second.
With a short rest, Diggins returned to racing in Lahti, as did the Norwegians. She placed fifth in the skiathlon. In that race, in which Therese Johaug won in her usual dominating fashion, Diggins missed silver by two seconds.
In Falun, Diggins made it very real with her 10 k skate win over Johaug. She then placed 7th and 8th, respectively, to close out the Falun stop. In Ulricehamn, in what turned out to be the final racing before World Championships in this Covid-19-truncated season, she placed fourth again in a sprint.
Racing is no riddle for Diggins. In other words, when she enters a sprint, she’s no one-dimensional distance skier angling for sprint points. She can win. The same goes for distance events. With race cancellations this season, the schedule skewed more heavily towards skate races – a format Diggins has historically excelled in. However, the term overall means just that, skate and classic, sprint and distance. Diggins, known foremost as a skate skier, included two podiums in classic this season, both third places and both during the Tour de Ski. She also earned four other top-10s in classic. Her bread and butter remains skating. According to FIS, Diggins had a single skate race out of the top-10 this season, a 13th in the Davos skate sprint. Of the rest, the worst was a 7th place in the Davos 10 k skate. All the others were top-fives, including five podiums: a third place, a second place, and two wins all during the Tour de Ski, and her win in Falun.
On the sprint points list, Diggins is fourth overall. On the distance list, she’s first with 552 points, to Andersson’s 490 in second (both Stupak and Brennan have 444 points in a tie for third). Statistically, although Diggins has secured the overall, the distance globe is still up for grabs with two distance races this weekend.
Back in 2018, Diggins was second in the overall World Cup, and third on the distance list, her best final rankings to date. Ingvild Flugstad Østberg of Norway won the overall that season.
The barrier-breaking continues for Diggins. Living out of a few duffles, on the road from November until the end of March, she also juggled a minefield of Covid protocols during this time. The added stress of a pandemic and the reality that North Americans cannot simply head home for a week of rest between races, adds context to a season peppered with deep-nasal swab Covid-19 testing.
“It’s really exciting because I feel like this is something we have really worked towards as a team, and something we have been building a lot of momentum towards for many many years,” said Diggins during a streamed press conference organized by FIS earlier this week. “I think the first thing I feel is a lot of gratitude because this is something that you cannot achieve alone.”
She went on to thank the cadre of wax techs, coaches, sponsors, teammates, and supporters who have been part of her success.
“To be able to do anything in the same sentence as Bill Koch is really cool; I have been looking up to him for a very long time,” Diggins said of her legacy now being linked with some of America’s most accomplished skiers. “Also, of course, looking up to Kikkan with her sprint globe wins, so it is really cool to be the first to do something and have the opportunity to say yes this is totally possible.”
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.