Diggins Climbs to Second in World Cup Overall
Jessie Diggins (Afton, Minn.) and Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, Wash.) wrapped up the FIS Cross Country World Cup in sensational style, landing second and third in the women’s 10k freestyle pursuit finale in Falun, Sweden. The finish moved Diggins into the second spot in the season-long World Cup overall standings - a mere 40 points behind winner Heidi Weng of Norway.
Norway’s Marit Bjoergen took the win in the pursuit. Diggins took the Winner of the Day title with the fastest individual time in the pursuit race.
Her second in the overall is the best American finish since Bill Koch won the globe in 1982. Diggins is only the second American woman to finish in the top three, joining Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) who was third in 2012. She had been third coming into the day, but surpassed Norway’s Ingvild Flagstaff Østberg.
“Today was a dream come true,” said Diggins. “I knew I needed a good day to hold my position, but I didn’t know that I would come within 40 points of the overall globe. What an awesome end to the year.”
Bjornsen’s podium netted her a boost up to sixth in the overall standings and eighth in distance - career bests and among the best U.S. rankings of all time.
“It is amazing to finish the season on that note,” Bjornsen said. “I did not know that would be possible today. When I saw the other girls and how quickly the race went, I decided I was going to fight for the podium.”
Diggins started third in the pursuit, 43 seconds behind Bjoergen, carving 27 seconds out of the Norwegian’s lead - just 16.7 seconds back at the finish for the fastest time of the day. She started out in a group with Østberg just ahead of her and Finland’s Krista Parmakoski right behind. The trio skied together as a chase pack for three kilometers before Diggins decided to up the pace and broke away. She began knocking down the gap by huge chunks and by the 5k mark had put over 30 seconds on the chase group and had Bjoergen in sight. She continued to carve time on Bjoergen, but didn’t have enough race left to catch her.
Pursuit races can create packs that work within to generate energy. But it can also leave individual athletes stranded. “I actually love getting to just go hammer by myself, skiing the downhills exactly how I want to. So I was happy to be out there looking for every second I could get.”
Bjornsen, who started 57 seconds back along with Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla, had to bridge up to the Østberg-Parmakoski group. With Diggins out alone, a chase pack developed by mid-race establishing a battle for third. Bjornsen held her spot in heavy traffic then seized an opportunity to break free in the final stretch to the finish to take third over Norway’s Ragnhild Haga.
“Going to the home stretch I was just thinking that this was the last sprint of the season and I better make it count,” Bjornsen said.
Both Bjornsen and Diggins were aided by fast skis. Week in and week out, the U.S. Ski Team technicians - now aided by their own waxing truck - have been provided rocket-fast skis to athletes all season long. "Our awesome techs nailed the skis and we had the boards to go out there and lay down a fast race," said Diggins.
In the series of post race podium presentations for both the race and the crystal globes, it was all Norway and the USA starting with Diggins and Bjornsen sharing the podium with Bjoergen. "Seeing Sadie have an incredible day was the icing on the cake," said Diggins. "I’m just so proud of her and how mentally strong she’s been all season. She has been racing so well the entire year and I can’t wait to see what she does next year."
The race was a farewell for a host of athletes including Americans Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, Alaska) and Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, Vt.). Randall was celebrated after the finish, taking a victory lap with son Breck in her arms in front of the thousands in Falun for the World Cup Finals.
Randall leaves with a strong legacy starting with her World Cup sprint win at Rybinsk in December, 2007. She ended up winning 14 World Cup races and three sprint crystal globes. She and Diggins combined for a team sprint World Championship in 2013 and the recent Olympic gold.
Stephen left her mark on the flanks of Alpe Cermis, establishing herself as one of the most dominant hill climbers in the sport. A regular podium finisher on the final hill climb of the Tour de Ski, she recorded one of the best tour finishes in history with her fifth in 2015.
The team now heads back to the USA for the first time since November, heading to Craftsbury Common, Vt. for the SuperTour Finals and the long distance races of the L.L.Bean U.S. Cross Country Championships.