U.S. Women Third in Gällivare Team Relay; U.S. Men Break 20 Year Draught
The most recent World Cup held in Gällivare, Sweden, was 12 years ago. It marked a significant milestone for the U.S. women's team, as they secured their first-ever team relay podium, led by a 21-year-old Jessie Diggins. Fast forward to December 3, 2023, and the U.S. women once again stood on the podium in third place. This time, the team was led by the now-veteran Jessie Diggins and Rosie Brennan, alongside Sophia Laukli and Julia Kern.
On a cold and blustery day during the second day of racing in northern Sweden, the stands and course were packed with enthusiastic fans. It was relay day, where each nation assembled one to two teams of four athletes each, with two athletes skiing a classic leg and two skating. The atmosphere was festive, with USA athletes, techs and coaches donning blue and red relay socks, face paint and glitter.
Breaking down the women's 4x7.5k team relay, Jessie Diggins, coming off a victory in the previous day's 10k skate, led the U.S. women's team. Each athlete completed two laps of the challenging 3.5k course, featuring technical turns, fast downhills and little room for rest. Diggins set a blistering pace from the start, handing over to teammate Brennan, who extended the lead further. Laukli and Kern continued the strong performance, maintaining a top-three position. Crossing the finish line, the U.S. women secured third place behind Germany and Sweden.
Post-race, Jessie Diggins expressed her pride in being part of the team relays and witnessing the evolution of the team over the years.
"One of the things I am most proud of in my career is being part of the team relays, and seeing how the team has changed year after year," said Diggins, post race. "But then some things haven't changed! We still have the relay socks, the face paint, the glitter... and then all of these amazing women that are coming up and putting their heart and soul into this team and racing so hard - it's so cool to see. Seeing the fire in their eyes and seeing them give everything they had makes me so proud, knowing we're doing it all together."
In the men's 4x7.5k team relay, it was a historic and thrilling day for the U.S. men's team, with both USA teams (USA #1 and USA #2) achieving top results. USA #1, comprised of Ben Ogden, Gus Schumacher, Scott Patterson and Zanden McMullen, finished fifth, breaking a 20-year top-five drought. USA #2 included Luke Jager, Zak Ketterson, Johnny Hagenbuch and JC Schoonmaker.
The race featured both USA teams setting the pace. On the first leg, Ogden of USA #1 and Jager of USA #2 set a strong pace, then Schumacher (USA #1) and Ketterson (USA #2) then worked together in leg two, and strong performances from Patterson (USA #1) and Hagenbuch (USA #2) rounded out leg three; Hagenbuch skied on the fastest legs of the day when comparing final times. McMullen (USA #1), secured a fifth-place finish, while Schoonmaker (USA #2) crossed the line in eighth.
Reflecting on the day, McMullen emphasized the comfort of camaraderie within the team. "I think being such good friends and being so close to your teammates," he said. "It relieves a lot of pressure and feels very familiar."
Looking ahead, Stifel U.S. Cross Country Ski Team program director Chris Grover highlighted the potential of this strong men's team.
"Today we got yet another glimpse of the true potential of this men’s team in relays," he said. "We’ve known the talent is there given their World Junior Championship relay medal pedigree, and we know we need patience as these men make the step to World Cup and build critical experience. In the next seasons, these men will clearly challenge for the podium. We’re likely on the cusp of a period of truly inspiring USA men’s success. It’s also very exciting to see the team in third place overall in the Nation’s Cup after two hard weekends of racing in Scandinavia."
Next up, the team travels to Östersund, Sweden for the third week of World Cup racing.