Jessie Diggins competes during the women's cross-country mass start at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 20, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.
But the race of which she is most proud came on the final day of the 2022 Winter Games. It was the women’s 30k freestyle — the longest distance that the women race at the Olympic Games and on the regular world cup tour. She had finished seventh at the distance at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, but it was a classic race in PyeongChang. This time, it was a freestyle race — the stronger of Diggins’s techniques.
“I knew I was in great shape and had the opportunity to have a great race,” she said.
Until food poisoning hit her 24 hours before the 30k. Rather than testing her skis that day and doing other race prep, she lay in bed and forced herself to eat and drink what the team’s sport dietician suggested. It was far from ideal race prep.
When she got up to test her legs, they felt leaden, and she felt as if a gust of wind would blow her over. Still, she skied to the starting line and gave it a go.
Fortunately, during the race, she was able to eat and drink — key to keeping her energy up.
“Even when I started cramping at 13k, I was able to just keep going,” Diggins said. “I wanted to ski a brave race.”
After crossing the finish line second, 50 seconds ahead of a chase group that included teammate Rosie Brennan, Diggins collapsed. It was, she has said, the hardest race she has ever done in her life.
“I worked through quite a lot more than a normal race for me, and that’s why I’m so proud of it,” she said. “I’ve never been able to dig that deep in my life.”
For the next couple of weeks, Diggins felt tired “on a cellular level” and napped every afternoon but is on her way to recovery.
Notably, one of only a handful of women who competed in all six women’s events at the Games, Diggins finished eighth or higher in every race.
Favorite Season Memories
Diggins received her Olympic silver medal about five hours later down in Beijing at the Closing Ceremony.
“Getting your medal there with all of Team USA and everyone, it was really special and emotional, and just one of those … I’m failing to find the right word to describe it,” she said. “It’s just one of those moments that you’re going to remember your whole life.”
It was the second time that Diggins has had a memorable experience at the Closing Ceremony. In 2018, she was Team USA’s flagbearer.
“I’ve been really getting lucky in the cool experiences bucket list,” Diggins acknowledged with a laugh.
(L-R) Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins celebrate during the medal ceremony for the women's cross-country team sprint free at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 22, 2018 in Pyeonchang-gun, South Korea.
The Best for Last
Another favorite season memory came on the final day of the 2021-2022 world cup tour in Falun, Sweden. For the first time ever, FIS held a mixed relay. Two men and two women each skied 5k. Unlike regular team relays where the first two legs are in the classic technique and the final two legs are freestyle, the mixed relay was all freestyle.
Besides Diggins, the U.S. fielded Brennan, Scott Patterson, and Zak Ketterson. Brennan has consistently finished in the top five of distance races this season. Patterson was coming off two of the U.S. men’s best finishes ever at the Olympic Games, and in the 15k freestyle race the previous day, he finished seventh, a world cup best for him. And Zak Ketterson, a 24-year-old Minnesotan and Northern Michigan University graduate, had scored his first world cup points the previous day, finishing 15th in the 15k.
With Diggins’s trademark glitter on their cheeks, the four Americans were in the hunt from the start. For the anchor leg, Patterson tagged Diggins, who took off in second place.
From there, she executed her plan, cresting the course’s hill in first and left everyone behind on the downhill. She crossed the finish line in first, 3.8 seconds ahead of Finland and 4.3 seconds ahead of Norway (anchored by the legendary Therese Johaug, who won Olympic gold in the 30k just three weeks earlier).
“Getting to step on the podium with those boys, that was their first world cup podium,” said Diggins. “It was very special to do it all together.”
It’s About More Than Wins
Diggins will marry fiancé Wade Poplawski this spring, then continue training. She is still having fun ski racing, loves her team, and the sport of cross-country skiing. But it’s about more than just reaching goals and collecting hardware.
“I love what I’m able to do while I’m racing and the people I’m able to reach and the platform that it gives me to talk about causes that I care about,” she said.
After she and Kikkan Randall won an Olympic gold medal at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, Diggins opened up about her eating disorder and wrote a book, Brave Enough, in which she honestly described her triumphs and struggles.
At the Super Tour Finals in Whistler, British Columbia, last week, Diggins met with fans, and several shared that she had inspired them to seek recovery from eating disorders.
“It’s really cool to realize that it works,” she said. “Talking about things is hard and sometimes you wonder if it’s even helping anyone.
“But when you hear stories like [this], it’s so rewarding and meaningful.”
Diggins also uses her platform to remind fans that racing is about more than talent and hard work. She takes every opportunity to thank the team behind the team: coaches, wax techs, physical therapists, sports psychologists, race organizers, volunteers, etc.
“It’s important for people to know that when you see a skier cross the finish line, it’s not just them skiing,” she said. “There’s a whole team behind the scenes making that race possible.
She gave a “big thank you to the support team, because that’s really important.”