Much like the glitter she wears on her cheeks, Team USA‘s Jessie Diggins’ first and second career Olympic medals came with sparkling fashion marked by furious sprints.
Her third Olympic medal, however, required a long slog. But the result is just as shiny.
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On the final day of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Diggins won Team USA’s final medal in Beijing: a silver in cross-country skiing’s women’s 30km (equivalent to 18.6 miles). Norway’s Therese Johaug won the race, while Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen claimed bronze.
“That might have been the best race of my entire life, I’m not going to lie. It was also maybe the hardest race of my whole life,” said Diggins.
She revealed that she has been dealing with food poisoning for the last 30 hours, “Which is why I thought I was going to die at the finish line.”
After waking up on Saturday morning “pretty much everything was coming right out of me,” she spent most of the day in bed, forcing herself to eat food ahead of the grueling marathon race.
“I was talking to my parents and my mom said, ‘Don’t decide how you feel right now, just go out there and ski because you love to race.’ And she was right.”
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Diggins now has a “complete set” of Olympic medals, thanks to her historic gold from PyeongChang and her individual sprint bronze from earlier at these Beijing Winter Games.
If anyone knows how to do hard things, it is Jessie Diggins
Already the only American in history to win two Olympic medals in the sport, Diggins’ third career medal further solidifies her record as the greatest U.S. cross-country skier of all-time. She also becomes the sixth member of Team USA to win two medals in Beijing, joining Nathan Chen, Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue, Elana Meyers Taylor and Lindsey Jacobellis.
Just three kilometers into the 30km event, the quartet of Diggins, Johaug, Sweden’s Ebba Andersson and France’s Delphine Claudel had separated themselves from the rest of the pack.
By 10 kilometers, the trio of Johaug, Diggins, and Andersson had separated themselves from each other. For the next 20 kilometers – nearly one hour of racing – that’s how the race continued. It was not a pretty race, but it was certainly a gritty one.
Johaug managed to hang on to win gold, crossing the line in 1:24:54. The Norwegian skier – who missed the 2018 Winter Olympics while dealing with a doping-related suspension – won three gold medals at these 2022 Winter Olympics, bringing her career total to six.
Diggins was also too quick to be caught. The 30-year-old from Afton, Minn., finished a minute and 43 seconds behind Johaug to claim silver.
But the chase pack caught up with Andersson. In the dying moments of the 30km event, she was passed by Finland’s Niskanen, who claimed bronze. Andersson went on to finish eighth.
“My legs were cramping the whole last 17km. I don’t know how I made it to the finish,” Diggins said on the NBC broadcast, also noting the support she felt from other Team USA athletes at the venue.
“That was so hard, but it was so special, because I felt like we had so much love out there. So I just want to say ‘thank you.'”
In addition to Diggins, her U.S. teammates Rosie Brennan (sixth), Sophie Laukli (15th), and Novie McCabe (18th) also had strong performances, marking the first time four American athletes finished in the top 18 of any Olympic cross-country skiing event. Today’s 30km marked the 21-year-old Laukli’s Olympic debut.
Video of Jessie Diggins winning the women’s 30km at the 2022 Winter Olympics:
The moment that @jessdiggs became the first woman to win a distance medal in cross-country skiing history for @TeamUSA. #WinterOlympics pic.twitter.com/oijv0uq3a1
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 20, 2022
Even without a medal, Rosie Brennan’s performance at the 2022 Winter Olympics was remarkable
In Beijing, Brennan finished in the top-15 of all six cross-country skiing events, including a fourth-place result in the individual sprint and sixth-place finish today (just 5.4 seconds off the podium after an hour and 27 minutes of racing).
It’s a remarkable performance for the 32-year-old, who says she needed a few extra years to reach her prime.
Four years ago, the then-28-year-old Brennan made her Olympic debut in PyeongChang, where she competed in one event – the skiathlon – finishing 58th. She was cut from the U.S. team after those Winter Olympics – she would later discover that she had been competing with an undiagnosed case of mononucleosis – and spent the next year funding her own training and racing. She eventually made her way back onto the U.S. national cross-country skiing team and had a breakout 2020-21 season on the World Cup circuit.
A note for the cross-country skiing record books:
At the Olympics and world championships, it is tradition that the longest men’s cross country race is 50km long, while the longest women’s event is 30km.
“On principle, it really bothers me a lot,” Diggins told NBC Olympics last spring. “Not only can we ski 50km, but we can ski more.”
While the women didn’t ski 50km in Beijing, the men didn’t either. Due to extreme weather conditions, including strong winds, the men’s 50km event on Saturday in Beijing was shortened. While it was called a 30km, it technically only clocked in at 28.4km.
The women’s race on Saturday, however, went the full 30km.
Even though the result was unintentional, it is still a significant moment in the Games called the “most gender balanced ever” that women skied farther than men for the first time ever at an Olympic Games.
Looking ahead, Diggins believes races could be organized so that men and women’s events take the same amount of time, even if they aren’t the same distance.
“Do we need to race the exact same length? Maybe not. Do we need to race the same amount of time on course? Yeah, I think that’s absolutely reasonable,” she said.
Cross-Country Skiing Women’s 30km – Top 10 Finishers at the 2022 Winter Olympics:
On Her Turf writer Lisa Antonucci and the NBC Olympics research team contributed to this report.