Norway is back. Jessie Diggins still wins.
When Jessie Diggins became the first American to win the Tour de Ski three weeks ago, the caveat was that she did it without any skiers in the field from powerhouse Norway.
Well, the Norwegians are back after sitting out races for coronavirus pandemic safety reasons. And Diggins beat them on Friday.
Diggins won a World Cup race in her trademark discipline -- 10km freestyle -- in Falun, Sweden. She edged the world’s top skier, Norwegian Therese Johaug, by 2.1 seconds in the interval-start race. Diggins finished early, then waited it out as Johaug chased her time.
“To do it with a full field and have everyone here, that’s really, really special,” Diggins, who with the now-retired Kikkan Randall in the team sprint, won the U.S.’ first Olympic cross-country skiing title in 2018, said on Swedish TV. “It’s not that the other races aren’t special, but this, I think, is extra challenging and especially on such a hard course.”
Johaug, the reigning World Cup overall champion, trailed by eight seconds at the 6.3-kilometer split, then led by one tenth at the final intermediate split at 7.7km.
Johaug, who missed the PyeongChang Olympics over a strange doping ban, won nine of her previous 10 starts in races of 10km or longer dating to early January 2020.
Diggins earned her first World Cup victory outside of the Tour de Ski since February 2019, when she took a sprint that didn’t include the world’s top three sprinters. Friday marked Diggins’ first victory in a full-strength World Cup since the 2017-18 season.
“I can’t really believe it, but I think if I had to design the perfect course for me, this would be it,” she said. “It was cold. I had amazing skis. The downhills were so fun. They were so crazy. The uphills are so hard, but I was just thinking, it was almost just like a video game for me. ... When it’s cold like this, I feel like I can just push and push and push.
“Some people make skiing look easy; I think I make it look really painful,” she said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “I wish I made it look pretty.”
It gives Diggins, the World Cup overall leader by a significant 235 points, momentum as the world championships approach in one month.
The 10km race switches between the two techniques -- classic and freestyle -- with every biennial worlds. This year, it’s freestyle. (At the 2022 Olympics, it’s classic.) No American has won an individual world title in cross-country skiing.
“It really makes me think that it’s possible,” Diggins said of success at worlds.
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