Jessie Diggins competes during the women's cross country 7.5km + 7.5km skiathlon at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb.5, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.
ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Jessie Diggins came to the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 knowing that if she left everything on the course — if she tore herself inside out — then she would consider her races here successful, podium or no podium.
In the first medal event of these Winter Games — the cross-country skiathlon — Diggins did just that. On a cold windy day, she crossed the line in sixth place with nothing left. Her time of 45:04.02 was 50.5 seconds behind gold medalist Therese Johaug from Norway, who skied away with the race in 44.13.7.
“My goals for today were to keep fighting, to never give up, to ski with the best technique I could,” said Diggins as a frigid breeze continued to blow. “And I feel so good to have one race under my belt.”
In a promising sign for her upcoming Olympic races, Diggins skied the fastest 7.5-kilometer freestyle leg. (In the skiathlon, the women ski 7.5-kilometers in the classic technique, then switch skis and poles and race another 7.5-kilometers using the freestyle or skate technique.)
Diggins was more than seven seconds faster than Johaug in the skate portion of the race. For the past decade, 33-year-old Johaug has dominated women’s distance skiing. She is the reigning skiathlon world champion, a title she has held three times. And she has 14 world championship titles to her name.
“I'm really proud of [my race],” Diggins said. “I definitely wish I had a better classic half, but the skate half was some of the best racing of my life, especially at altitude. And mostly I'm so proud of that.”
The 2022 skiathlon gold medal is Johaug’s first individual Olympic gold medal. Her only other gold medal is from the team relay at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
Thirty seconds behind Johaug, Natalia Nepryaeva from the Russian Olympic Committee battled it out with Austria’s Teresa Stadlober for the remaining medals, with Nepryaeva — the current overall world cup leader — taking silver by three tenths of a second.
The race started late on a sunny, cold day in Zhangjiakou. Temperatures were in the single digits with a brisk north wind. Brutal was the word most skiers used to describe the conditions.
Team USA’s Rosie Brennan, 33, took the early lead, setting the pace in the classic leg until Johaug took over. Brennan hung with the leaders for several kilometers, then dropped off the pace and ended up 14th.
Brennan described her race as “part good, part ugly, part in between.” But mostly, she felt vindicated in her second Olympic Games. Four years ago, she was suffering from mononucleosis and did not yet know it. She competed in the skiathlon at the 2018 PyeongChang Games and finished almost last. Until today, it was her only Olympic race.
“I had a demon in the back of my mind that I needed to get rid of,” admitted Brennan, who grew up in Park City, Utah, but now lives in Anchorage, Alaska. “To be in a better place today, even if it wasn’t my best, was a step in the right direction and something that I’m proud of.”
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Beijing 2022? Visit TeamUSA.org/Beijing-2022-Olympic-Games to view the competition schedule, medal table and results.