SOCHI, RUSSIA – For her final race of the Sochi Olympics, Jessie Diggins could have used a little more winter in the Winter Games. The Afton native was competing in the women’s 30-kilometer freestyle, a longer distance than she typically races, and the temperature climbed into the 40s on a bright, sunny day at Laura Cross-Country and Biathlon Centre.
Diggins and her U.S. teammates stayed close to the leaders through the first 8 to 10 kilometers. But the Americans, anticipating the snow would deteriorate as the race progressed, chose to swap their skis partway through for new pairs they hoped would be better suited to a softening course. While the snow held up, the U.S. athletes did not, and Diggins finished the race in 40th place.
Liz Stephen led the Americans in 24th place, with Holly Brooks (27th) and Kikkan Randall (28th) not far behind. Norway’s three athletes, who elected not to change skis, rolled to a huge lead and swept the podium. Marit Bjoergen won her third gold medal of the Sochi Games and ran her Olympic career total to 10 medals, the most by any woman in Winter Games history.
Brooks said it was a “disaster” to switch skis at the 10-meter mark. The race was the last women’s cross-country event of the Sochi Games, and the Americans fell short in their quest to earn their first-ever Olympic medal in cross-country skiing.
“It’s a really good thing I’m not a Summer Olympian, because I don’t perform in the heat very well,” said Diggins, whose best finish in Sochi was eighth in the 15K skiathlon. “I just shut down.
“There were some awesome, fun moments out there, and I’m just proud of myself for finishing. It was a brutal race. It wasn’t my kind of temperature at all, but I stuck it out, and so I’m psyched with that.”
Several racers fought dehydration and overheating. Diggins said she felt good through the first 8 kilometers, but during the first hill climb with the sun beating down, her body reached a temperature that caused her energy to disappear almost immediately.
Randall, the team’s leader, said her fitness was not quite at its peak. The group will take plenty away from the Sochi experience, she said, that will help in 2018.
“It’s been a character-building couple of weeks,” she said. “It’s not exactly what we had imagined. Certainly, we know that we’re close. We’ve just got to keep fighting to get it right.”
Cross-country skier Brian Gregg of Minneapolis will be the last Minnesota athlete to compete in Sochi. Gregg will race in the men’s 50k mass-start freestyle, along with U.S. teammates Noah Hoffman, Toriin Koos and Kris Freeman.