PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – Four years ago, all the hype and the hoopla and the high expectations were brand new. The U.S. women's cross-country ski team, which had never won an Olympic medal, seemed to be at the edge of a breakthrough.
When it didn't happen, Jessie Diggins and her teammates were left to wait four more years before trying again. In short order, they dusted themselves off and got back to work. Their fearlessness in the face of that bitter disappointment made a deep impression on Diggins, who went all-in with her teammates to give it another go in Pyeongchang.
"Courage isn't always winning," the Afton native said. "Courage is sometimes standing up and saying, 'That wasn't what I hoped and dreamed for. And I'm going to try again.' I think this is a team that has a lot of courage and a lot of bravery and a lot of guts."
As the Pyeongchang Olympics wind down, those qualities are being tested again. The U.S. women have only two chances left to win a medal at these Winter Games, in Wednesday's freestyle team sprint (2 a.m. Central time) and Sunday's 30-kilometer mass start classic. The U.S. starters have not been announced, but Diggins likely will race in the two-person team sprint.
Diggins has competed in four races at the Pyeongchang Games. Her fifth-place finishes in the skiathlon, the 10km freestyle and the women's 4x5km relay are the highest finishes ever recorded by an American woman in Olympic cross-country skiing. She also placed sixth in the classic sprint.
The expectations ratcheted up this year, as the U.S. women had their best shot of winning a medal in their 46-year Olympic history. Diggins has put on a brave face, focusing on those historic finishes and not on the lack of medals. She said after the 10k freestyle that she wished people would quit telling her they are sorry about her near-misses, because she doesn't feel there is anything to be sorry for.
"Of course you want to medal," she said. "You always want to medal. That's why we're here. But there are other things that are also really important, besides the hardware. To be that close, and to be skiing with the best in the world, is so awesome."
Diggins already has made U.S. history in the team sprint. She paired up with Kikkan Randall to win the freestyle team sprint at the 2013 world championships, the first gold medal ever won by American women at that event. She and Randall also were the first U.S. skiers to win a World Cup team event when they took the gold medal at a freestyle team sprint in 2013.
The team sprint alternates between the classic and freestyle techniques at the Olympics. The race at the 2014 Olympics was in the classic technique, and Randall teamed with Sophie Caldwell for seventh place. Diggins and Sadie Bjornsen were the bronze medalists in the classic team sprint at the 2017 world championships.