Catching Up With Olympic Gold Medalist Jessie Diggins

By Peggy Shinn | April 11, 2018, 6:37 p.m. (ET)
Jessie Diggins celebrates during the medal ceremony for the women's cross-country skiing team sprint freestyle at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 at Medal Plaza on Feb. 22, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.

 

In the seven weeks since Jessie Diggins became an Olympic gold medalist in the team sprint in PyeongChang, much has changed in the 26-year-old cross-country skier’s life.

She and teammate Kikkan Randall have been on morning TV shows and met the cast of the Broadway musical “Hamilton.” Diggins was also a guest on the NPR gameshow “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!,” where she talked to comedian and ‘Wait Wait’ regular Paula Poundstone, who famously pilloried the American cross-country skiers on a show earlier this winter.

“[‘Wait Wait’ host] Peter Sagal is hilarious,” said Diggins, by phone from Boston, where she is taking a post-season break. “It was fun to get to talk to Paula Poundstone and set the story straight.”

But Diggins’ life has also remained the same.

After a post-Olympic media tour in New York City in early March, she and Randall returned to Europe to finish the world cup tour. And in the final five races, Diggins put an exclamation point on her already exemplary season.

She finished third in a sprint in Drammen, Norway. Four days later, she was runner-up in the 30-kilometer race at Oslo’s Holmenkollen Ski Festival (considered the Super Bowl in Nordic circles). Then at world cup finals in Falun, Sweden — a three-day mini-tour — Diggins finished second in the final race.

That final race lifted her into second in the overall world cup rankings, only 40 points behind Norwegian Heidi Weng, the defending world cup champion. No American woman has ever won the overall title before. Randall finished third overall in 2013. Bill Koch won the overall title in 1982 — the same year that he brought skate-skiing from the marathon circuit to the world cup.

“I never would have imagined that I would come within 40 points of winning the overall globe,” said Diggins, who received a crystal medal for finishing second overall. “That was crazy. I had no idea it was going to be that close.”

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Several people pointed out to Diggins that she might have won the overall title had she not skipped the world cup races in Lahti, Finland, immediately after the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 to go on the media tour.

But Diggins disagrees.

“It’s a good thing I did skip Lahti because if I had gone, I would have been sick and burned out and maybe I wouldn’t have raced as well,” she said.

Instead, her post-Olympic media tour energized her.

She found the media tour tiring, but it was a different kind of fatigue than how she feels after training and racing hard.

“Not that it wasn’t fun,” she added. “It was just different. It’s not my normal job.”

So when she rejoined the U.S. team in Norway, she was excited to get back to racing.

“I was like, I know this!” she said.

She was excited to see her teammates again — the team is like family — and she credits this excitement with fueling the end of her strong season. Back on U.S. snow at the end of March, Diggins won three races at SuperTour Finals in Craftsbury, Vermont.

So what’s next for Diggins?

A ‘Welcome Home’ party with a parade in Minnesota on April 14.

Training for the 2019 season begins May 1, and Diggins will join the U.S. team at their first camp of the season, likely in Bend, Oregon.

On June 1, she will return to Vermont and the Stratton Mountain School Elite Team, where she has trained for the past half-dozen years. It will be the first time she has seen her condo since it was flooded by a burst pipe in early January.

Unbeknownst to most people, Diggins was dealing with a homeowner’s nightmare in the lead-up to the PyeongChang Games. During a sub-zero cold snap in Vermont in early January, a pipe froze in the unit above Diggins’ and flooded the condo that she had just purchased last summer. Everything that Diggins owned was soaked. She got the call hours after finishing third overall in the week-long Tour de Ski. The Olympic Games were set to open in a month.

Her realtor rescued her clothes, washing and drying them, and laid out her papers to dry. Her mom and boyfriend, Wade Poplawski, dealt with the rest. They showed her cabinet and flooring samples via Skype and handled insurance claims and the renovation.

“It was really incredible,” said Diggins, who always credits the team behind her success. “A month out form the Olympics, this would have been a massive stress.”

Besides enjoying her refurbished condo in Vermont, Diggins has yet to set goals for 2019. The 2019 world championships will be held in Seefeld, Austria, a home base for the Americans in Europe. Diggins will no doubt have her eye on adding to her collection of four world championship medals: a gold, two silvers and a bronze.

As for the world cup overall title, that’s on her radar too. Of the top world cup racers, Diggins is one of the strongest all-around skiers, finishing third overall in distance races and sixth in sprints.

“I know at some point in my career that is a box that I would love to check off because I know it’s possible,” she said. “I know it’s within reach.”

A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.