Jessie Diggins finishes the women's cross-country skiing 10-kilometer free at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 15, 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Jessie Diggins doesn’t want anyone feeling sorry for her.
Sure, she’s come oh-so-close to an Olympic medal three times already at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
But Diggins, one of the most buoyant athletes ever to glide on skis, isn’t bummed.
“I’ve had so many people go, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry!’” Diggins said. “I’m like, ‘Don’t be sorry. I’m proud of what I did today.’”
On Thursday, Diggins’ prospects of winning the first Olympic cross-country medal by an American woman looked so promising that teammates Kikkan Randall and Sadie Bjornsen were waiting at the finish line to grab her in celebration.
Diggins had the third-fastest time with 1.6 kilometers to go in the women’s 10-kilometer freestyle, but wound up fifth. She was only 3.3 seconds behind the two skiers who tied for the bronze medal in the 25-plus minute race. That’s the smallest margin separating a Team USA female cross-country skier from a medal.
And what a run she’s had at these Games – fifth in skiathlon, sixth in sprint classic and now another fifth.
“To be that close and to be skiing with the best in the world – I’ve looked up to Marit (Bjoergen of Norway, who tied for the bronze) my entire life and to be 3.3 seconds from her, it’s so awesome,” Diggins said.
Ragnhild Haga of Norway won the gold with a time of 25:00.5, followed by Charlotte Kalla of Sweden in 25:20.8 and then Bjoergen and Krista Parmakoski of Finland in 25:32.4.
Diggins crossed the finish line in 25:35.7 and collapsed on the snow at the Alpensia Cross-Country Skiing Centre.
“I could not have gone any harder,” said Diggins, who won a world championships silver medal in this event in 2015. “I can honestly look back and say, ‘I don’t know where I would have found those seconds.’ I pushed my body way past its limit.
“I killed myself out there and I thought I was going to pass out on that last climb. I was completely locked up. And that’s a really good feeling to know that you gave it everything that you had and more than you thought you could give.”
The 90 skiers departed 30 seconds apart for the two-lap race.
Sadie Bjornsen was 15th in 26:42.6, Randall finished 16th in 26:50.4 and Liz Stephen came in 30th in 27:35.9.
“It’s certainly been heartbreaking for Jessie,” said Randall, a five-time Olympian, “because she’s clearly skiing at that top level and has just been skiing her heart out every single race. She’s the one that can roll her eyes back like no one I’ve ever seen.”
Just as she does before every race, Diggins dances around before races and puts glitter on her teammate’s cheekbones for extra shine and power.
“She’s had such a great, happy demeanor that we’re all feeding off of,” Randall said, “so it’s tough to see her be so close and not quite get there. But I know all of us seem to rise to an occasion where the relays come around. It’s what we’ve all been looking forward to. It would be pretty special to be able to do it in the relay.”
Ah, the relays. The next chance for Team USA is the 4x5K on Saturday, then the team sprint is the following Wednesday.
“I’m so stoked for the relays,” said Diggins, who is competing in her second Games. “They’re my all-time favorite events and I know we have a really strong team. This is the best women’s team in the history that we’ve ever had at the Games. I always said (winning a relay medal) would be the coolest thing because it shows the depth of a team. I think you don’t get anywhere alone in life. We always have a team behind us. Today we had a huge team of wax staff giving me this awesome opportunity with these skis."
Besides her confidence in her team, Diggins knows her fitness is where it needs to be.
“To have three top-six finishes at the Games in totally different events is like a dream come true for me,” Diggins said. “And yeah, of course you want to medal. You always want to medal. That’s why we’re here. But there are other things that are also really important besides the actual hardware and I think it’s important to not put other people’s expectations on me.”
She said she’s also proud of the way she’s been mentally ready for the Olympic grind.
“It’s hard to race every two or three days and come after it with the same fire and the same ability to turn yourself totally inside out every time,” Diggins said.
The team has a day off Friday and plan to watch a movie, Randall said, “and just be silly and have fun.”
The coaches will also determine which athletes will ski on the relay.
Perhaps Diggins will finally close in on that Olympic medal instead of being closed out. And she can share it with teammates.
“Her day is coming,” Randall said. “She is so close. And to see where she’s come over the last four years and think where she’s going to go over the next four, it’s incredible. I just feel happy to be her teammate.”