PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – It’s already been a busy Olympics for Jessie Diggins, with five cross-country races and one gold medal in the span of 12 days. On Friday evening, her final day got a whole lot busier.
Diggins, of Afton, was selected to carry the U.S. flag at Sunday’s Closing Ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Games. She will lead the American delegation into Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium just hours after competing in the final event of the Games, the 30-kilometer mass start classic. Diggins will be the only U.S. cross-country skier to race in all six women’s events.
The U.S. flag bearer is chosen by an athlete vote. Diggins’ American peers chose to recognize her for two weeks of historic performances in Pyeongchang, capped by the gold medal she won with Kikkan Randall in the team sprint. The medal was the first Olympic gold ever for the U.S. in cross-country skiing, and the first Winter Games medal of any color for the American women.
“This is such an incredible honor for me,’’ Diggins said. “I’m really humbled and moved that the athletes voted for me. The coolest thing for me about the Games has been getting to meet other athletes on Team USA and getting to cheer them on at their events and learn about what they do.
“I have so much respect and admiration for everybody here. I am beyond honored to be able to lead us out of these Games.’’
Before she and Randall won the team sprint last Wednesday, Diggins finished fifth in the skiathlon, 10km freestyle and 4x5km relay. She also was sixth in the classic sprint. The three fifth-place finishes were the best Olympic performances in history by an American woman until Diggins overtook Sweden’s Stina Nilsson in the final meters to win the gold medal by 0.19 of a second.
That sensational finish became one of the defining moments of the Pyeongchang Games. It also marked a breakthrough for the U.S. in a sport ruled by Norway, Sweden and Finland.
The medal earned by Diggins and Randall is only the second ever for the U.S. in Olympic cross-country racing, coming 42 years after Bill Koch’s silver at the 1976 Innsbruck Games. It ended a medal drought for the American women that dated to their Olympic cross-country debut at the 1972 Winter Games.
Diggins finished fifth in the 30km freestyle at the 2017 world championships, the best finish ever for the U.S. in that distance at that event. Sunday’s Olympic race will be in the classic technique.