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Personal Bests for USA in Skiathlon

By Tom Kelly
December, 3 2017
Jessie Diggins

LILLEHAMMER, Norway (Dec. 3, 2017) - Weekend two of the FIS Cross Country World Cup wrapped up Sunday in Lillehammer with a series of career bests for the U.S. Ski Team led by Jessie Diggins (Afton, Minn.) finishing fifth in a skiathlon. Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, Wash.) continued her strong season in 10th while brother Erik had a personal best in the men’s race at 20th.

Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo won his fifth straight race to remain unbeaten, while Charlotte Kalla of Sweden took a solid victory for the women. Skiathlon is a unique event combining classic technique for the first half, a pit stop to change skis then a final segment of freestyle technique. The discipline is an Olympic event, with Diggins checking off another top-eight Olympic qualifying finish.

Diggins started out the classic segment in the back of the chase group, working her way up by the midway point of the 7.5k leg to battle for third. She made the turn into freestyle in third, just ahead of Finland’s Krista Parmakoski but 21 seconds behind the battle between Kalla and Norway’s Heidi Weng.

In the skate leg, Norway’s Magnhild Haga burst out of the chase pack to put herself into third. Diggins stayed with the chase group, with Norway’s Marit Bjoergen bursting out into fourth while Diggins held the others at bay to claim fifth.

“I was really happy with today,” said Diggins. “Our classic skis were amazing and I think that’s the smoothest and strongest I’ve ever classic skied yet! In the skate I felt good and am still working on building my top race gear as we get into the season.”

The classic performance of the team continued to be a major storyline, especially with the strength shown by Diggins. Sadie Bjornsen, who has been a strong classic skier and is now elevating herself up in the rankings, hung in the middle of the chase group much of the race to finish 10th. It was a career best for her in the Olympic skiathlon distance. 

“Another great day in Lillehammer for me,” said Bjornsen, who was third in the classic sprint on Saturday. “The race started with a nice fiery hot pace, as the girls took off super hard from the line. I tend to prefer classic skiing, so I wanted to try to stay in contact during the classic section, and hold on for the skate portion of today's race.”

The closure was rugged with four trips up a huge climb. “I knew I didn't want to redline too early on, but keep some control for the skating section of the race,” added Bjornsen. “I struggled at the beginning of the race to set in with the hot pace, but managed to find my gears by the end.”

Bjornsen struggled to find the gears at the start of the skate leg but got back on track.

Sadie’s brother Erik had a career best day in the men’s 15k/15k finishing 20th - his first World Cup points in skiathlon. Noah Hoffman (Aspen, Colo.) was also in the points. Hoffman had finished top-10 in the Olympic test event skiathlon.

"I’m very happy with today's result," said Erik Bjornsen. "It was fun last weekend to feel like I was in the mix for both sprinting and distance skiing. After missing out on the heats yesterday, and getting beat by 13 Norwegians I was out to get some redemption today. I felt great in the classic and was trying to hold myself back from chasing the leaders. I’m sure I could have kept up with them for 15k but the last half of the race would have been a disaster."

Erik Bjornsen, who admits 30k races used to scare him, skied a smart race to get a career best. It was his fourth points-scoring finish in five races this season.

Sadie Bjornsen now stands seventh in the overall World Cup standings after five events, with Diggins in 10th.

“Jessie had one of her best classic races ever to keep her in a battle for the podium the entire race,” said Head Coach Chris Grover. “She never relented in the face of the powerhouse Norwegian team and their home crowd and fans.”

Grover also cited Sadie Bjornsen for her second strong weekend. “Both Jessie and Sadie have clearly made a step forward and are proving once again that they are a threat in every event.

Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) moved up steadily in the skate leg to finish 16th.

Grover was also thrilled with Erik Bjornsen’s performance. “He was strong in classic, which is normally his best technique, but equally strong in skate and moved up several spots in the skate leg.” Grover also acknowledged a strong skate leg from Hoffman.

“The Team is really looking forward to getting Davos - our home away from home,” he added. The formats in Davos, skate sprint and skate distance, are ideal for the U.S. Ski Team.”

The team now heads to Davos, Switzerland for a full on freestyle weekend. Saturday is a freestyle sprint (not an Olympic discipline in 2018) plus a men’s 15k and women’s 10k freestyle. Diggins will be among the favorites in the 10k freestyle at the Olympics this February in PyeongChang.