KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA – Afton’s Jessie Diggins intended to show her patriotism in her first Winter Olympics by dying her ponytail red, white and blue.
Small problem. One hue didn’t quite come out as planned.
“Yeah, I’m pink, blue and blond right now,” she said. “Anyways, it’s nice because then my parents can always find me.”
Deb and Clay had no trouble spotting their daughter on Saturday. She was the one passing everybody in the second half of the women’s 15K skiathlon.
The 22-year-old Diggins turned in a memorable Olympic debut by finishing in eighth place in the skiathlon with a time of 40 minutes, 5.5 seconds under perfect conditions at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center.
Norway’s Marit Bjoergen won the gold medal in 38:33.6.
Diggins entered the race just hoping to finish in the top 20.
“Out of the four races I hope to do [in the Olympics], this race was the one that I had the least expectations for,” Diggins said. “I didn’t think this was going to be my best race. Hopefully the rest of the races go just as well because it felt awesome and definitely came as a surprise to have such a good race. I’m just so excited to finally be an Olympian. It’s a really cool feeling.”
Many of the racers used the skiathlon as sort of an Olympic warmup, a chance to get acclimated to the course and the Games before concentrating on their specialties. Diggins said she hopes her performance is a sign of good things to come. She is expected to compete next in the freestyle sprint Tuesday.
“It’s a huge confidence boost to know that when I’m peaking and rested and letting my body actually soak in all the training that I’ve been doing for the last six years, that I can really go for it,” she said.
Diggins did just that after finishing the classic portion of the race in 27th place. Her positioning wasn’t unexpected, though, and she felt like she “nailed” her ideal pace through the race.
In the free portion of the race, Diggins passed 19 racers to grab a top-10 finish. The highlight, she said, was hearing her parents cheering for her as she climbed a steep hill.
“That meant so much and gave me such a boost,” Diggins said. “So I was able to have a good finishing kick.”