Inside the Medal Ceremony: Jessie Diggins brings home bronze.

Rachel PerkinsFebruary 9, 2022
Jessie Diggins earns a historic bronze medal in the women’s freestyle sprint, becoming the first American woman to earn an Olympic medal in an individual cross country ski event. (Photo: Nat Herz/FasterSkier-ADN)

The first.

With a perfect storm of tactics, technique, and peak race form, Jessie Diggins fought to the line to finish third behind Swedish sprint phenoms Jonna Sundling and Maja Dahlqvist in the women’s 1.5-kilometer freestyle sprint. This historic result makes her the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in an individual cross country ski event. 

“It’s overwhelming, but in a good way,” Diggins said in the press conference. “It’s just really emotional for me because this really belongs to the whole team. It has taken so many years to get here, to have us come and have an individual medal. And that’s something that doesn’t happen alone. It doesn’t happen without a lot of help. So I’m just so thankful for our team – it’s been a lot of people working really hard for a long time.”

Her bronze medal adds to a collection started in 2018 when she won gold with Kikkan Randall in the freestyle team sprint in PyeongChang. Diggins is now the second American in history to win an individual Olympic medal in cross country skiing, the first was Bill Koch who earned silver in the 30 k during the 1976 Games in Innsbruck, Austria. She is the only American cross country skier to earn multiple Olympic medals. 

Diggins entered the 2022 Games as a medal favorite, with the eyes of the media creating undeniably feeding external pressure and expectations. To handle these pressures, Diggins’ approach was quite different from the “eye on the prize” medal-focus one might expect.

“For me, it was just important to make sure I could still focus on the process. And so I wasn’t focused on winning, I wasn’t focused on metals, I was just focused on doing my best every single day. So I could come here prepared and happy and in a good place.”

And it worked.

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Swedish Women Earn Silver and Bronze

In their first Olympic appearance, Sweden’s Jonna Sundling and Maja Dahlqvist went one-two in the freestyle sprint. 

For those who have followed the sport over the last Olympic cycle, seeing these women atop the podium was no surprise. The two were partners in the freestyle team sprint during the 2021 World Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany, where they controlled the race from the front, adding a final surge to take the win ahead of Switzerland and Slovenia.

This was Dahlqvist’s second World Championship team sprint title; she also won the event in the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, Austia, racing with Stina Nilsson. 

Sundling is the 2021 World Champion in the individual classic sprint, showing her prowess in both techniques, and Dahlqvist has won all five of the World Cup sprints she has entered this season. 

It might have been more surprising for them not to have earned these medals.

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Klæbo, Pellegrino, and Terentev Collect Men’s Medals

The men’s sprint also saw familiar names earning gold and silver medals.

Norway’s sprint champion Johannes Høsflot Klæbo put on a thrilling show to bring home a gold medal in the men’s freestyle sprint, defending his 2018 Olympic title. His day nearly ended in the semifinal, when he laid off the gas before the line, taking second to Italy’s Federico Pellegrino, with the third and fourth skiers in the heat crossing the line just 0.14 and 0.18 seconds behind him. Had he not been in the top two, he would not have moved on to the final round.

Since his Olympic gold in 2018, which was contested classic, Klæbo won the freestyle sprint in the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria, repeating his victory in the classic sprint during the 2021 World Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany. He has won 40 World Cup sprints since he stepped up to that level at 20-year-old in 2017.

Earning silver was a man who has become accustomed to standing next to Klæbo on the podium. Italy’s Pellegrino earned the silver medal in the 2021 World Championships in Oberstdorf, after winning the freestyle sprint in 2017 during the World Championships in Lahti, Finland, before Klæbo’s rise to stardom. Pellegrino also earned silver during the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang, again standing beside the young Norwegian.

With a World Cup podium resume that dates back to 2011, Pelle has long been a freestyle sprint contender at the international level. Despite a slow start to the current season, it would have been unwise to rule him out as a medal favorite in Beijing.

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At 22-years-old, Alexander Terentev (ROC) added a fresh face to the podium. Terentev made headlines after upsetting Klæbo in the opening World Cup sprint in Ruka, Finland last November, winning the qualifier and continuing through the rounds to beat the Norwegian at his own game: the sit and kick. His power was unmatched on the day, bringing to the line a ski length ahead of Klæbo for the win. 

Terentev is the 2021 U23 World Champion in the classic sprint, though his win in Ruka is his only World Cup podium – for the time being.

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Adding to the excitement of the medal ceremony, athletes enjoyed live musical performances that echoed through the amphitheater.


Rachel Perkins

Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646

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