Gutsy Medal Challenge by Diggins
Jessie Diggins (Afton, Minn.) skied with guts and determination, challenging for a medal in the Olympic classic sprint but falling just short in sixth. Sophie Caldwell (Peru, Vt.) was eighth on a windy night at the Alpensia Cross Country Centre.
The men's gold went to Norwegian Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo - his first Olympic medal, with Sweden's Stina Nilsson taking gold for the women in a hard fought battle with defending Sochi Olympic champion Maiken Caspersen Falla.
Simi Hamilton (Aspen, Colo.) led the U.S. men finishing 20th after a quarterfinal crash that sent him to the back of the pack. Erik Bjornsen (Winthrop, Wash.) was 25th. Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, Wash.), who went out in a fast quarterfinal heat, was 12th. It was the first time the USA has ever placed three athletes into the top 12 in an Olympic cross country event.
While a medal eluded Team USA, it was a classic race outcome few could have predicted just a few years earlier. "For me, just making the final has been a huge step forward," said Diggins. "If you had told me a year ago that I would make the Olympic classic finals, I never would have believed you. We had really competitive skis today and we have such a deep and strong women’s team so I’m really stoked. I’m really, really proud of this race today, it was a good one for me and I think it shows some good things to come."
With three women and two men qualifying into the heats, Team USA came into the night time start with enthusiasm. Caldwell opened it up, taking second in her quarterfinal to advance. A few minutes later, Diggins did the same. Both controlled their pace in their opening heats advancing with strength. Bjornsen was also in a good position to move up, but could not quite close the gap coming into the finish.
In the men's opening quarterfinal, Bjornsen never lost contact with the chase pack and put himself into a strong position into the finish but couldn't close. Hamilton, a few heats later, was well positioned but got tangled on an uphill turn and crashed hard.
In the semifinals, Caldwell battled for a potential lucky loser spot but came up short. Diggins skied strong in her semi, winning a photo finish for second with Olympic Athlete from Russia Natalia Nepryaeva.
Wednesday will be a rest day with Diggins back Thursday for the 10k freestyle where she will be among favorites.