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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, April 18, 2024

Wonder Women: Jessie Diggins

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This week, we’re celebrating a series of firsts: the first American to medal four times at the FIS Cross-Country Skiing World Championships, the first U.S. athlete to win the cross-country Tour de Ski and the first American woman to take home the FIS Cross-Country Ski World Cup. Remarkably, all of these accomplishments can be attributed to one athlete: cross-country skier Jessie Diggins.

Her first taste of victory came in 2013 when she and teammate Kikkan Randall claimed the United States’ first World Championship win in cross-country skiing. They then went on to become the first Americans to ever win an Olympic gold in the sport when they bested Sweden by 0.19 seconds in a thrilling race at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. Notably, with every personal accomplishment she achieves, Diggins simultaneously helps pioneer the United States’ legacy in the underrated sport.

Cross-country skiing, aka Nordic skiing may be one of the greatest tests of endurance. With only two ski poles for leverage, Nordic skiers rely heavily on core and lower body strength to maintain speed and balance throughout their race. Factor in the constant threat of windburn, and it’s easy to see why many describe cross-country skiing as one of the most mentally and physically demanding outdoor sports.

Additionally, from a spectator’s perspective, Nordic ski racing can appear incredibly synchronized; oftentimes competitors are spaced a few feet beside each other making similarly timed strides. For this reason, it can be hard to imagine how a skier could manage the strength to make a clean break from the pack.

Diggins certainly makes it look easy, though. When there’s any doubt Diggins has sufficient energy left in her, she’ll hit the accelerator. For my fellow basketball fans, watching her final sprint to the race line is equivalent to witnessing a potential buzzer-beater. For Diggins, a race isn’t over till it’s over.

It’s no wonder why you’ll often find Diggins collapse onto the snowy ground after a race. Her grand embrace of the earth is an iconic visual that captures a contrasting mix of pride, agony and triumph. If there was any doubt of her grit, one can easily tell she pushed herself to her very limits by the absolute exhaustion that takes her once she crosses the finish line. Considering how unforgiving Nordic skiing is to an athlete’s body, what makes Diggins a champion is her ability to seize every opportunity to gain a lead over her competition — even if that opportunity presents itself just yards before the finish line. In a sport that’s the ultimate test of stamina, it’s evident that Diggins quite literally digs deep for every bit of momentum.

Now, at age 29, Diggins’ ski career doesn’t seem to be decelerating anytime soon. She has her eyes set on championing the 30km classic event. Given her extensive experience with history-making, it’s safe to say Diggins’ races will be a must-watch at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.