Afton native Jessie Diggins has stood atop a World Cup podium before, but never as a winner of an individual gold. Friday, the cross-country skier filled that gap in her résumé, earning her first solo World Cup victory in a women's 5-kilometer freestyle race as part of the Tour de Ski in Toblach, Italy.
Diggins, 24, finished in 13 minutes, 15.5 seconds to become only the fourth American woman to win a World Cup individual event. Her victory came three days after teammate Sophie Caldwell won a classic sprint, giving the U.S. two stage winners in the Tour de Ski for the first time in history. Diggins, a 2014 Olympian, joins Caldwell, Kikkan Randall and Alison Owen Spencer as U.S. women who have won a World Cup individual gold medal.
The victory moved Diggins into 10th place in the standings for the Tour de Ski, a nine-day, seven-stage event with races in Switzerland, Germany and Italy. It was her third gold medal in a major international competition. She also teamed with Randall for two other history-making victories, winning the team sprint at the 2013 world championships and at a 2012 World Cup in Quebec.
"This win was a big surprise for everyone, especially me,'' Diggins said. "I couldn't believe it.
"It's really fun to have such a strong team. Sophie wins, and it gets everybody pumped up. It helped me go fast today.''
The event featured an individual start, with the overall Tour de Ski leaders the last to take off. Diggins was the 24th skier out of the gate, charging out about five minutes before the top-ranked competitors.
She reached the 1.7k and 2.1k checkpoints faster than any skier who started before her — but as she often does, she saved her best skiing for the end. Diggins powered through the final kilometers, then sat in the leader's chair in the finish area, waiting to see if anyone could beat her. Norway's Heidi Weng finished only 0.9 seconds behind, and fellow Norwegian Ingvild Oestberg was another 1.5 seconds back in third.
"There are very few skiers in the world that can close down the final kilometer of a course like Jessie,'' U.S. coach Chris Grover said. "She was fierce and unrelenting on the downhills and flats leading back to the stadium, pushing extremely hard on her skis. We've been wowed by this ability of hers many times.''