Jessie Diggins (Afton, Minn.) checked off another top Olympic qualifying performance Saturday, leading the U.S. Ski Team with a seventh in the women's 10k freestyle at Toblach, Italy. Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, Wash.) was ninth as Sweden's Charlotte Kalla took the victory.
It was Diggins' third top-eight qualifying finish in Olympic events this season. Rosie Brennan (Park City, Utah) made it three in the points, finishing 17th.
“I went out hard and pushed as hard as I could today,” said Diggins. “I felt like I had good skis, although it being an individual race, I didn’t do much skiing with other people out there. My style of racing is usually to just go as hard as I can from the start and try to ski smooth, powerful and work every section of the course.“
“This is a special venue for me, as I have had some of my best races here,” said Bjornsen, who had her first podium in Toblach last season. “I have some good vibes and good confidence here.”
Like the last few weeks, Bjornsen went out hard, trying to hang in as long as she could. “My second lap was incredibly hard, as my legs were burning like crazy,” she said. “I am very familiar with 5k feelings here in Toblach, but it is a whole new challenge with 10k.”
But she was buoyed by the fact that it was a career-best 10k skate. “As with last weekend, I think I have more to give, and more gears to find, but it is a great step for now! It will also put me in a really exciting position for tomorrows pursuit start 10k classic.”
The new course at Toblach but received good reviews from athletes. It was also fast - 22 minutes for the women's 10k and 30 for the men's 15k - one of the fastest on the tour.
“It’s a fun course,” said Diggins, who won back-to-back 5k skate races during Tour de Ski the last two seasons. “Of course I’m sad that my old favorite course was changed but it’s still such a fun gliding course with so many transitions and a ripping fast downhill section! It’s always fun to be in the fight in the top-10 and really motivating to work so hard for every single second on the course.”
“It was a perfect winter day in Toblach,” said Brennan. “The new course featured a much steeper, longer climb in place of a few short climbs. It was very challenging to pace as the climbs were tough but there is also so much undulating terrain to and from that stadium that you also have to push.”
Brennan spent a bit too much energy on the second time up the climb, paying the price coming back to the stadium.
“I feel really good about my fitness and am looking forward to a pursuit start tomorrow,” she added.
The Toblach weekend wraps up Period 1 of the World Cup, then heading into the Tour de Ski. It has been a solid few weeks for the U.S. women.
“I feel like Period 1 for me has been a solid, good start to the year,” said Diggins. “My focus and peak is aiming for the Games, so right now I feel when I’m racing that I’m fighting as hard as I can but don’t have that top gear just yet - which is part of the plan, but still a little frustrating when you know you have more somewhere.”
“Kalla and the Norwegians (who took second through sixth) were clearly dominant today,” said Head Coach Chris Grover, “but the USA women were the next strongest group.”
Grover also lauded Brennan’s continuing strong performance in distance skate races. “Rosie is clearly in great shape and having one of the best starts to the World Cup season in her career.”
Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) opted to sit out the weekend to rest a sore foot and prepare for the Tour de Ski. “We missed having Kikkan in the line-up today but want to see her rest her foot a bit and get back to 100% healthy prior to the Tour de Ski,” added Grover.
Erik Bjornsen (Winthrop, Wash.) was 29th to lead the men in a 15k skate.
“It was a much better day for the men compared to the Davos,” said Grover. “Both Noah (Hoffman) and Scott (Patterson) had much better days. Erik was happy with his race. Noah and Scott felt like they had much better races than last week but were still left feeling unsatisfied.
Patterson went out hard and was one of the early race leaders, along with Bjornsen, but faded towards the end.
“It’s so tight in the men’s field that good races often get buried in placings,” added Grover. “Erik’s 30 point FIS race today would have been a 12th place result on the women’s side. All the men are looking forward to trying to move up in tomorrow’s classic pursuit.”
Both Diggins and Bjornsen remained in the top 10 overall standings - Diggins eighth, Bjornsen ninth.
At the Alpen Cup races in St. Ulrich, Austria, Ida Sargent (Orleans, Vt.) was third in a 5k classic race. Sophie Caldwell (Peru, Vt.) was fifth and Julia Kern (Truckee, Calif.) 15th.
Sunday will wrap up the pre-holiday World Cup schedule with the classic portion of the pursuit. Athletes will be seeded by Saturday's results. The Sunday races are not Olympic qualifiers.
Men's 15k Freestyle
Women's 10k Freestyle
Sunday, Dec. 17
5:30 a.m. ET - Women's 10k classic pursuit - Live stream OlympicChannel.com
7:30 a.m. ET - Men's 15k classic pursuit - Live stream OlympicChannel.com
1:00 p.m. ET - Women's 10k classic pursuit - Olympic Channel TV: Home of Team USA
NOTE: All races are streamed live on OlympicChannel.com and the Olympic Channel mobile app. Many races are also broadcast later on the same day on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA TV broadcast channel.
Streaming and Broadcast Schedules