Diggins is World Champion! Tears of Joy as U.S. Star Takes Gold in Women’s 10 Kilometer Individual Freestyle

Ken RothFebruary 28, 2023

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Numerous questions have been simmering regarding these World Championships: today’s Women’s 10 Kilometer Freestyle Individual Start brought those questions to a full boil. Could anyone knock the Swedish women from the top of the podium? Could Rosie Brennan bounce back from the gut-wrenching events of her Skiathlon performance? Could Jessie Diggins claim an individual medal in these World Championships, and her first individual World Championship gold?

Jessie Diggins (USA) was overwhelmed with emotion after all of the pieces finally came together for her to win an individual World Championship. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Diggins was the one who offered the emphatic answers: once the day’s racing ended, it was Diggins taking the gold for her long-sought individual World Championship. She had distanced herself from all of the Swedes with Frida Karlsson (SWE) finishing second and Ebba Andersson (SWE) finishing third.

Other finishers for the U.S. were Rosie Brennan in 15th, Sophia Laukli 25th, and Julia Kern 34th. The top Canadian finisher was Katherine Stewart-Jones in 27th. She was followed by Jasmine Lyons in 36th, Liliane Gagnon 38th, and Dahria Beatty 46th.

World Championship Women’s 10 Kilometer Individual Freestyle

Having made the strategic decision to sit out the Skiathlon—and with the upcoming 30 Kilometer race being in the Classic technique—conventional wisdom suggested that today’s race would be Diggin’s best shot for an individual gold. For Diggins to realize that achievement, she would need to knock off both Swedish distance stars:  Frida Karlsson and Ebba Andersson. Sweden’s women have taken on an aura of invincibility. Conventional wisdom also suggested that beating out the Swedes was extremely unlikely.

Collapsing at the finish after a fully committed race effort, Jessie Diggins (USA) proved capable of defying conventional wisdom. She distanced her Swedish rivals—the pre-race favorites—to take the gold medal. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Diggins wasted no time, attacking the 10 k distance from the start. She was clearly on a mission and skied in her absolute top gear and best form through the entire race. Leading at every time check from the 2.2 Kilometer mark to the finish, it was a bold, confident performance worthy of a World Champion.

As the race progressed to the 2.2 k mark, it was clear that Diggins was holding nothing in reserve. She had managed to push through all of the other contenders and established a small lead over Karlsson who lurked only 3.7 seconds behind. Brennan was hanging on to third place, tenths of a second behind Karlsson.

As the race reached the half way point, the splits showed Diggins, Andersson, and Karlsson in a virtual dead heat; all three separated by less than two seconds. It was at this point that conventional wisdom was thrown out the window as Diggins showed that she possessed stamina and depth no one else could match.

Relentless in her tempo and efficient in her technique, Diggins barreled down the tracks. By the 7.7 Kilometer mark she led Karlsson by five seconds; Andersson had faded to 8.1 seconds back. The pace had taken its toll on Brennan who had slipped back 45 seconds behind the leaders. It had become clear that Diggins had gone out at a pace no one could match. The only question remaining was would she be able to hold that pace for another 2.3 Kilometers?

Diggins approached the finish still firing on all cylinders, clearly still on mission, and showing determination to leave absolutely nothing to chance and to leave nothing in reserve. Between the 7.7 kilometer mark and the finish she had remarkably put another nine seconds into Karlsson and ended up winning by 14 seconds. Andersson had dropped 19 seconds back.  The finishing time gaps showed the amazing consistency and intensity which Diggins delivered in the second half of the race.

After the race, tears flowed for Diggins who emphasized the team support and commented that, “this was one of the best races of her life.”  She thanked the ski technicians several times for providing her the tools needed and expressed that she had skied “with joy.”

For Jessie Diggins (USA), it was all about the team effort propelling her to a gold medal. (Photo: NordicFocus)

She told FasterSkier’s Nat Herz after the race that she was “really wrung out emotionally, but in a really good way. So many happy tears. It feels like such a victory for the whole team. I was literally having goose bumps seeing what the wax tech plans were.”

We’re not the biggest team out there, but [the wax technicians] put everything they had into it, so I wanted to put everything I had into it.           Jessie Diggins

“I had been really nervous for a long time,” Diggins said. “This was my chance to dig deeper than I have ever dug before, more than anything I just wanted to leave it all out there. I was really grateful that all the pieces came together…I had amazing skis.”  Diggins commented on the pressure for today. “I think I’ve come to have a healthier relationship with pressure…I’m not going to pretend it’s not there…its kind of the way in a race you just make friends with pain.”

Having drawn inspiration from the hard work of the team’s staff, Jessie Diggins (USA) vowed to leave everything out on the course. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Diggins had a definite plan for today’s course: “The new snow made this a really great course for me, the corners were all very much working—pushing—I just wanted to cross the finish line with nothing left.” Diggins had focused on making smart decisions while tired. “I did a lot of visualizing making decisions…for two weeks I’ve seen myself being tired, being in a fog, and making the right decision.”

Hard luck continued for Rosie Brennan (USA) at these World Championships: she would finish 15th. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Even though the day was disappointing for Brennan, she took solace in her teammate’s accomplishment. After the race, Brennan spoke with FasterSkier: “On any day we can fight for a gold, and that’s motivating for everybody…you have to put yourself in the fight.” She was also philosophical about her performance over the last two races. “That’s sport…every weekend of racing has some good and some bad in it. Honestly that’s one of the reasons I love competing. You get such a mix of emotions, it makes you feel very alive. It’s really grounding in an existential way.”

The entire American team was able to share in Diggins’ success. Julia Kern told FasterSkier’s Nat Herz that, “This is more than just an individual result, it’s a milestone for our whole team. It shows that anyone from any country can make it happen if they work hard and believe.”

Jessie Diggins (USA) skied flawlessly, maintaing an intense pace and excellent technique the entire way. (Photo: NordicFocus)

After the race, U.S. coach Jason Cork told FasterSkier that today was redemption of sorts after a disappointing Tour de Ski where he admitted that he had made mistakes with ski preparation. He also elaborated on the decision to skip the Skiathlon. “A lot of people could easily get a medal in the Skiathlon…it seemed like a safer bet to get a medal in the team sprint, and then it sets you up well. It was a tough decision, but it was the right call.” It was another point of redemption after what seemed like endless second guessing on the U.S. team’s choice to pull Diggins from the Skiathlon.

Head coach Chris Grover told FasterSkier that there was a mix of emotions including “relief.” “There’s so many pieces of the puzzle that have to come together,” he said. “including ski service…athlete fitness…and choosing the right training camp. It’s a relief when you can see an athlete like Jessie ski to her potential”

“[Today’s race] was our best chance for a medal,” Grover elaborated. “The whole team pushed really hard with every possible extra step.” Grover further emphasized the importance of having inspected the course yesterday. “I think all of the women came away with good confidence about how to ski the course. It looked daunting on paper…but everyone figured it out.”

U.S. coach Matt Whitcomb also viewed today as a bit of redemption with so much media focus on missed expectations during the Tour de Ski. Whitcomb said he thought it “ridiculous” that other teams were calling for health checks when Diggins missed qualifying in a Tour de Ski event by one second.  So today was definitely vindication for team USA.

To win a world championship everything must work just right at the right time. Today for Diggins and team USA, the skis, the fitness, the course, the years of training all came together at the right time: the time to make history.

Frida Karlsson (SWE), Jessie Diggins (USA), Ebba Andersson (SWE), (l-r) celebrate after the finish. (Photo: NordicFocus)

World Championship Women’s 10 Kilometer Individual Start Freestyle RESULTS 


Ken Roth

Ken lives in Southeastern Michigan. He's an avid outdoor sport enthusiast. He's an attorney, former Mayor of Northville, Michigan, and former bowling center owner. He's spent much of the last 36 years trying to chase down his wife on classic skis; to no avail.

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