FeatureNewsUS Ski TeamWorld CupJessie Diggins Looks Ahead

FasterSkierNovember 21, 2022

American cross country skiers continue to climb the international ladder, and any number of them are likely to find their names in the headlines this winter, but it’s Jessie Diggins who continues to be the skier, the competitor, and the leader through which this team is recognized. It’s a distinction she’s earned time and time again.

For Jessie Diggins, team is family. From left to right, Zak Ketterson, Jessie Diggins, Rosie Brennan, and Scott Patterson. (Photo: NordicFocus)

On the morning of November 21, Jessie (who is in Ruka, Finland in preparation for the season’s first World Cup weekend) joined a virtual group of ski-media reporters and sport representatives for a discussion of the upcoming season. Three FasterSkier staff writers—Ben Theyerl, Ken Roth, and John Teaford—were on the media call, hearing the many questions and answers. In typical Jessie-style, it was an event filled with smiles, laughs, and optimism. This article offers highlights of the wide-ranging conversation:

 

Ben Theyerl

FasterSkier staff writer, Ben Theyerl, paid particular attention to Diggins’ responses concerning team dynamics and equal distance policies (for male and female race distances):

Skiing and Racing

Diggins was asked to reflect on what is coming up immediately on her calendar—the Ruka World Cup this weekend—and on her long-term future in the Olympics, World Cup, and beyond. As always, Diggins remained team-focused in her answers. Regarding this weekend’s Ruka World Cup, she noted that she finds it helpful to channel the energy of younger teammates: “When you see someone making their first start, it brings back the energy and excitement of your first World Cup.”

Ruka will also mark an athletic first for Diggins: the arrival of equal distance racing means that she will race a 20 k World Cup race for the first time in her career. She is looking even farther down the road to a particular race made possible by new equal distance policies: the Holmenkollen 50 k. “I’ve been looking forward my whole life to racing the actual 50 k. I’ve raced that distance a couple of times . . . and they’ve never had to have an ambulance waiting like they used to think [women] needed . . . I think it’s total crap that women never got to race this iconic distance. I’m very grateful for FIS making this change.” Diggins added that the messaging of switching to equal distances was also critical. “The message that it sends to young women is that you’re totally capable of doing anything that you want to if you train hard and work hard.”

“The message that it sends to young women is that you’re totally capable of doing anything that you want to if you train hard and work hard.”

Diggins was also candid about how the conclusion of the 2022 Olympic cycle has led to a more relaxed feeling this season. “[The Olympics] was the most type of pressure I have felt in my career. I feel a bunch of relief now, and can keep skiing knowing if I retire tomorrow I can be more than satisfied with what I have done in my career . . . I’m still here because I love what I do. I love my team. I think this is super fun.  I’m not racing because I have to prove anything, and I think that keeps a lot of the pressure off.”

In the upcoming season, Diggins is anticipating the World Championships in Planica, Slovenia next March. She also admitted to being excited to be “Chasing the Crystal Globe” for the World Cup overall. In particular, she noted that the World Championships would offer the chance for the US Team to build off their recent successes in Team Relays. “I love Team Relays, and we have been really close in the past couple of [World Championships]. I feel like now is the time for us to take the next step.”

American Racing

Of additional interest to American skiing fans had been Diggins’ role in securing a North American World Cup placed within the 2020 FIS calendar (to have been held in Diggins’ home state of Minnesota at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis). Though Covid restrictions ultimately caused that race to be cancelled, there has been a provisional joint bid from the Loppet Foundation and American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation to stage 2023-24 World Cup events at Wirth Park, and Cable, Wisconsin. On the prospect of a Minnesotan World Cup Diggins said that “I remember the first time I went to a World Cup, and I think about how unique and inspiring it is. [Wirth Park] is an ideal venue to grow the sport. It is in the middle of the city, which would bring a diverse set of fans from outside skiing, with the prospect that they can all be right next to the athletes . . . That energy [is] electric . . . and I want everyone to experience that.”

 

Ken Roth

FasterSkier staff writer, Ken Roth, concentrated on message’s communicated in Jessie’s responses pertaining to team culture and fan support:

Team Culture

Diggins noted that she came directly from high school to professional racing, and that the sense of being “a team” was very similar to what she experienced in high school. “I was fortunate that when I came onto the [national] team we were all invested with this idea that we would support and help each other.”

“I was fortunate that when I came onto the [national] team we were all invested with this idea that we would support and help each other.”

When asked for her impression of her own teammates’ prospects this season, she replied, “They look really good. They’re really thoughtful in technique, analyzing video, it’s not just more more more.” She has high hopes for her teammates and pointed out how hard she, herself, has been pushed by Julia Kern in recent intervals.

Jessie Diggins and Julia Kern take second in the team sprint in Dresden, GER in December 2021. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Training Changes and Adaptations 

She noted that the biggest change to her training plan is focusing on technique and maximizing on-snow time (including her choice to spend three weeks on snow in Australia this autumn). “Pure fitness can be gained just as easily on roller skis, but you can really only improve certain [technical aspects] on snow.” She noted that in order to avoid plateauing, her training hours creep up slightly every year, giving her “room to grow.” She also credited her training plan as devised and supervised by her coach Jason Cork: “the brains behind the operation.”

Fan Support

Diggins smiled broadly when she recalled being invited to a fan’s wedding; she seemed to have been genuinely touched by that gesture. She also mentioned that she had been contacted by a woman who is in recovery at the Emily Program and how moved she was by that person’s journey. Diggins is definitely a fan favorite; she also seems devoted to returning that affection. Looking down the road several years, she said “I love what I do, so here I am, still doing it.”

 

John Teaford

FasterSkier editor and staff writer, John Teaford, heard Diggins expressing opinions and hopes extending well beyond her presence as a star in the sport of cross country skiing.

Advocacy in Skiing, and Beyond

Diggins has proven to be a powerful champion of numerous social and environmental issues ranging from awareness of eating disorders to climate change legislation. Her answers to the questions she fielded on these issues were especially thoughtful. She spoke of her meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill regarding her work with Protect Our Winters (POW).  “I had a really great trip to the Capital with Gus Schumacher.  I used the story of my food poisoning in the Olympic 30k (in which she won silver) to show that just because something’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. It was an uplifting visit.”

“Just because something’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.”

 

With regard to climate change—and the potential for activism and social consciousness to inspire beneficial policies—she said, “I am really hopeful . . . It is a man-made problem, and we are the ones who need to fix it. This isn’t an issue that we should feel the need to take sides on.”

Jessie’s Athletic Future

When asked about long-term plans to go back to the Olympics, she again attribute her motivation to her team, and her teammates. “This is a group that supports each other . . . a really safe space,” she said. “I feel a lot of love and support; that makes it easy to be here. Without [this great team chemistry] I probably would’ve been done a long time ago . . . If I’m healthy and uninjured, I’m definitely planning to do the 2026 Olympics.”

All in all, the video conference was 45 minutes of pure Jessie Diggins: candid, generous, passionate.

Jessie Diggins previewed her upcoming season on a media Zoom call on Nov 21, 2022.

 

 

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