Diggins Wins 20th World Cup; Laukli, Patterson Eighth
In the first race of the North American World Cup series, a North American and the winningest skier in U.S. history, Jessie Diggins took home her 20th World Cup victory and her 58th World Cup podium. With Diggins' win today, she has now surpassed fellow Olympic champion Kikkan Randall for most wins in one single season, with her fifth individual win this season in Canmore.
It's the first time the FIS Cross Country World Cup has come back to Canada since 2019 and the first time more than a dozen Americans got their career first World Cup start. Before the race even started, the day was turning out to be special.
"USA, USA, USA" was heard throughout the venue, with fans traveling from as far as Vermont to come cheer on the Stifel U.S. Ski Team. With the World Cup finally coming back to the U.S. next week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, fans are making their way from all corners of the country to come cheer on their favorite skiers, creating an atmosphere that is new and exciting, as very few of the athletes on the current team have ever raced this close to home on the World Cup level.
For both the men and women's U.S. start list, it included not only the typical 12 athletes between both genders, but both 12 athletes per gender. With the best cross country skiers in North America, the Canmore Nordic Center prepared a challenging but exciting course, where athletes would loop around four times to equal out a 15k mass start skate. With all on the line at once, it was anyone's game.
In the women's race, through the first lap, the field hardly broke - the course profile featuring hill after hill, it was challenging to break up the packs as they clustered together again on the next hill. With that, racers had to navigate the high-speed corners, steep uphills and fast downhills together in a pack.
Through the first lap, Diggins led through the stadium lap, with Sophia Laukli, Rosie Brennan and Julia Kern with her in the lead pack. Alongside the athletes who have skied on the World Cup for years, like Diggins, Brennan, Laukli and Kern, were three new World Cup names: Margie Freed of Craftsbury Green Racing Project, Emma Albrecht of the Montana State Ski Team and Mariah Bredal of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation.
Going into lap two and three, it was a similar story, with Laukli moving up in the ranks, at one point, leading the race for several kilometers, pushing the pace on the uphills and making her move to spread the lead pack out. With the skiers breaking up ever so slightly, it was now Diggins and Laukli setting the tone for the rest of the race.
"Going into lap three and knowing my sprinting abilities, I decided that it was going to be worth making a bit of a move on the uphill because I was feeling super good and I just wanted to get the group as small as possible," said Laukli. "I sent it on that lap - it definitely worked and then I took that same tactic into the fourth loop. I just focused on going all out and it worked. I've never done that type of thing in a race before - leading and going ham - but in this space that is what I needed to do! For me, going really hard and leading was the best method for me to get a top result."
In the last lap, Diggins and Laukli were in the mix with Heidi Weng of Norway, Ebba Andersson of Sweden, and a handful of others. It was anyone's game going into the final sharp corner into the stadium. Diggins came into the final stretch in the lead - with a huge smile on her face and family in the crowd, she pumped her hand into the air and took home her 20th career victory. Laukli ended up eighth on the day but had much to celebrate after taking control of the race and mixing things up.
"I was going with the flow," said Diggins. "After a couple of laps, I knew it was going to be a sprint finish, so I had to be smart. But I wanted to play it tactically! The entire time, I had a pretty fluid race strategy. I knew it was going to be fast, especially on this really hard course, so the entire race I was making myself be patient, which is not my strong suit, but I kept telling myself to 'be smart, be smart, be smart' and trust my sprint finish."
Rosie Brennan was next in 15th, adding another top 15 to her impressive 2023-24 resume and Julia Kern broke her way back into the top 20, in 19th. Sydney Palmer-Leger had her first-ever skate World Cup race, finishing 25th, Margie Freed was 29th, Mariah Bredal 30th, Lauren Jortberg 35th and Emma Albrecht in 40th.
For the men, Patterson led the way for the Americans, crossing the line in eighth place. In a race similar to the women's, where the pack hardly broke until halfway through and there were various leaders throughout every major checkpoint, no one knew who would take the win. At 8.9k, Patterson was in fifth place, skiing with a group of Norwegians and Swedish athletes, putting himself in a good position for a top 10 result in Canmore. Alongside Patterson, there were more new faces to the World Cup, including Reid Goble of Bridger Ski Foundation's Pro Team, Braden Becker of Craftsbury Green Mountain Project and Graham Houtsma of Bridger Ski Foundation's Pro Team.
At the end of the day, Patterson was back into the top 10 in eighth, with Gus Schumacher and Zanden McMullen in 22nd and 23rd, respectively, and David Norris rounding out the top 30 in 27th. Peter Wolter was 36th, Luke Jager 39th, Hunter Wonders 40th, Goble 44th, Becker 45th, Michael Earnhart 47th, Graham Houtsma 49th and Ben Ogden 54th.
"I felt like this course has an edge," said Patterson, post-race. "If you bump it over, you're hurting really bad, but if you stay under it, you're going to be okay. On the third lap, and seeing how the women's race went, I knew that I needed to make some pretty hard moves to move up. On the fourth lap, I had to give everything to stay in the top. It's been a while since I've been in the top 10 and I'm psyched to do it in front of almost a home crowd. My parents and here, my friends from Alaska - it's just amazing to be here."
Now, the team will race tomorrow's skate sprint in Canmore, the second of four races. Watch LIVE on skiandsnowboard.live.