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Diggins Just Seconds from Medal

By Tom Kelly
February, 10 2018
Jessie Diggins skiathlon finish
Jessie Diggins skates across the finish for the best U.S. women's Olympic cross country finish ever. (U.S. Ski & Snowboard-Sarah Brunson)

Jessie Diggins (Afton, Minn.) came within seconds of a medal, opening the Olympic Winter Games finishing fifth in the skiathlon. It was the best American women’s finish ever in the Games. Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla took the win over Norway’s Marit Bjoergen with Finland’s Krista Parmakoski third.

Kalla won in 40 minutes, 44.9 seconds - a 7.8-second margin over Bjoergen. Diggins was 4.6 seconds out of a bronze medal. It set a new U.S. women's Olympic mark, ahead of the sixth-place finish from Sophie Caldwell (Peru, Vt.) in the freestyle sprint four years ago in Sochi.

“I’m really proud of my race. I could not have pushed harder,” said Diggins. “Being seconds away from a medal and seeing it right there - I know it’s possible, I know I have what it takes. I think I’m in a good place in these games.”

It was a remarkable opening Olympic race pitting the stars of the sport battling each other stride for stride from start to finish. Diggins was positioned well coming out of the start, taking a quick lead over Heidi Weng of Norway before setting into a lead pack that numbered a dozen athletes and simply could not be broken apart until Kalla attacked late in the race.

Diggins hovered between third and 10th most of the classic leg, fighting relentlessly to keep in contact with the lead into the equipment change. Despite a brutally challenging course, the field didn't separate with only four seconds across the top 10 led by Bjoergen.

Nearing the changeover, Diggins had dropped back slightly into 13th but still only six seconds out. She turned in the fastest pit time in just 27.9 seconds.

In the skating segment, the pack remained strong splintering only in the last two kilometers. Coming into the final big climb, Kalla attacked hard and kept pulling away from Bjoergen. Parmakoski, meanwhile, had woven her way through the pack to climb into medal position. On the attack, Diggins found herself in a challenging position to respond but kept charging moving up to within striking distance.

Coming down the final high-speed downhill with a sharp right turn into the stadium, Diggins put herself into a good sprint position but didn't have enough remaining real estate to catch Sweden's Ebba Andersson who took fourth.

Caitlin Patterson (Anchorage) was the next American in 34th for her first Olympic start.

The men are in action Sunday with their 30k skiathlon beginning at 3:15 p.m. KT/1:15 a.m. ET. Team USA will start Erik Bjornsen (Winthrop, Wash.), Paddy Caldwell (Lyme, N.H.), Noah Hoffman (Aspen, Colo.) and Scott Patterson (Anchorage).

Diggins' likely next race will be Tuesday's classic sprint. Starters will be announced Monday.

Women's 15k skiathlon