Jessica Diggins celebrates winning the Tour de Ski on Jan. 10, 2021 in Val Di Fiemme, Italy.
Jessie Diggins has a busy season ahead of her.
The 30-year-old cross-country skier is the defending overall world cup champion, 2021 Tour de Ski winner and reigning team sprint Olympic gold medalist. She won the world cup distance title last season, as well.
It’s impressive palmarès for an American cross-country skier. The sport has long been dominated by Scandinavians and Russians, and Diggins has become a star in the U.S. and a superstar in Europe.
In an ideal world, Diggins would defend all four titles — and add more at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 this coming February. But she is realistic and is not the kind of person to let success go to her head.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you’ve done, you have to earn your place on the team and you have to earn a relay start,” she said in a recent media call. “You have to prove that you’re in the right shape to be there. That’s what I love about our sport; no one gets a free pass.”
It’s what drives Diggins during the off season. Her Olympic gold medal is in her parents’ basement in Minnesota.
“I don’t ride on the successes of the past,” she said. “I am proud of them because it reflects a lot of hard work from a lot of different people, from the whole community and country. But I have to prove myself this year.”
So, what races is Diggins prioritizing this season?
2021/2022 World Cup Season
Since her first world cup race over a decade ago, Diggins has stood on the podium in every type of cross-country ski race, from sprints to 30-kilometer mass starts, and in both disciplines, classic and freestyle.
Her weakest discipline is classic skiing (traditional kick and glide). But it’s difficult to tell. She earned a world championship bronze medal with Sadie Bjornsen in a classic team sprint in 2017 (one of Diggins’s four world championship medals). And her first podium at U.S. national championships came in a classic sprint.
Last season, Diggins was the only skier to earn points in every world cup race that was held. She brought a heavy training load into Period 1 (world cup races in November and December until the Tour de Ski starts), so did not step onto the podium until the Tour de Ski started. Only after she won the Tour and took over the world cup lead did she realize that winning the overall world cup title was a possibility and shifted her focus to achieving that goal.
This season, her prep plan is similar. But her focus is “most definitely the Olympics,” she said.
“You’re going to see me really working into the season,” she said. “That’s not to say that you won’t see good performances in period one, but probably not. You’re going to see me being patient, taking my time, then slowly working up to one large peak (in February).”
Diggins hinted at results to come when she won the classic sprint qualifier at the first world cup races of the season in Finland last Friday.
And if by season’s end, she does happen to defend the overall world cup title, all the better.
Tour de Ski
Part of Diggins’s prep plan includes competing in this year’s Tour de Ski. But winning the race is not the priority this year.
Last year, she dominated the Tour, winning two races and making the podium in four others. She was able to share some of the pressure with teammate Rosie Brennan, who was on the podium with her twice and carried the overall world cup lead until the final day.
Brennan finished last season’s Tour in sixth place overall. But Brennan, 32, is sitting out the Tour this year, choosing to train at home in Alaska as she prepares to qualify for her second Olympic Games.
This year, the Tour is more of a training tool for Diggins as she preps for her third Olympic Winter Games. This year’s iteration of the multi-race Tour has six stages that start with a freestyle sprint on Dec. 28 in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
“The Tour de Ski has always been part of my prep plan,” she stated. “It’s part of how I build that fitness.”
Before the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, Diggins competed in her first Tour de Ski, finishing 13th. In 2018 — six-and-a-half weeks before the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 — she claimed third place, becoming the first American to stand on the Tour’s overall podium.
“For me, it’s been really successful [to race the Tour before] past Olympics,” she added. “So if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”