PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – Jessie Diggins ended the Pyeongchang Olympics with her sixth race in 16 days Sunday, finishing seventh in the 30-kilometer mass start classic on a slushy course. Fellow Minnesotan Rosie Frankowski didn’t even start her Winter Games until the very last day, but she couldn’t have been happier with her one chance to race.
Frankowski, a Minneapolis native, was beaming after her 21st-place finish at Alpensia Cross-Country Skiing Center. All four Americans landed in the top 26 in the last and most grueling race of the Winter Games. They were all skiing in the wake of the magnificent Marit Bjoergen of Norway, who ended her Olympic career by winning her eighth gold medal — tying a Winter Games record — by nearly 2 minutes over Krista Parmakoski of Finland.
Diggins, who won a gold medal Wednesday in the team sprint, fell on the first lap and found herself playing catch-up the rest of the way. She finished in a time of 1 hour, 25 minutes, 54.8 seconds. Bjoergen clocked a time of 1:22:17.6, beating Parmakoski by 1:49.5.
Only a few hours after her race, Diggins, of Afton, carried the U.S. flag into the Closing Ceremony. That wrapped up her second Olympics in grand style, though she wasn’t too disappointed in Sunday’s placing.
“For sure, this was my worst race of the Games,’’ she said. “Not everything went according to plan. I rolled my boot in the slush and had a nice little crash, and I had to sprint for a while to get back to the pack.
“I felt like I was sprinting the entire time, but I’m proud of that. I didn’t give up. I really gave it everything I had. And to have my worst race of the Games be a seventh place is beyond my wildest expectations.’’
In addition to her gold medal, Diggins finished fifth in the skiathlon, the 10k freestyle and the 4x5k relay, and sixth in the classic sprint. The gold was the first ever for the U.S. in Olympic cross-country skiing, and it was the first medal of any type for a U.S. woman in the sport.
Diggins’ fall came as Bjoergen and three other skiers separated from the rest. Racing in short sleeves on a day when bright sunshine made the track slushy and slow, she was with a small chase group and spent much of the race in seventh or eighth.
Frankowski, a graduate of Minneapolis Southwest High School who now lives in Anchorage, Alaska, was a discretionary selection to the Olympic team. She found out she was racing only a few days before the 30k and said it was “a really cool surprise’’ to get an Olympic start.
As someone who has never raced at the top international level, her sole aim, she said, was to complete the race with a smile on her face. She finished in 1:31:11.4.
“I didn’t expect to feel that good and just keep jamming and going,’’ Frankowski said. “After the first 15k, I was like, ‘I feel great.’ Every uphill, I’m just going to go as hard as I can.
“To know you just raced in the Olympics, no matter what your result is, that’s just incredible. I can’t describe that feeling.’’
After her race, Diggins collapsed in the snow, thoroughly spent from her heavy Olympic workload. With her Winter Games over, she will return to Europe to resume competing on the World Cup circuit.
“I got a chance to race six times at the Olympics,’’ she said. “I got the chance to spin 77k on these trails. It’s been such a wild ride, so much fun. I’m really, really proud of how these Games have gone.’’