Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins of Afton has never skied in a World Cup cross-country race in her home country.
In about 18 months, she’ll do one better — she’ll ski one in her home state. “To ski in front of the ski community that raised me and taught me to love skiing, that is so incredibly meaningful for me,” Diggins said in a phone interview Friday. “It’s the best gift I could ever imagine for the ski community.”
The gift Diggins referred to was the announcement Friday that the International Ski Federation plans to hold a World Cup cross-country race in March 2020 at Wirth Park in Minneapolis. It will be the first World Cup event held in the United States since 2001 and only the third ever.
The World Cup, the most prestigious racing series in cross-country skiing, is a season-long set of about 35 races that crowns a world champion. In the 2017-18 season, Diggins finished second in the overall World Cup standings, capping a year that saw her win the first-ever gold medal for the U.S. in cross-country skiing when she and her partner Kikkan Randall won a relay event at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
And for the local officials who worked to bring the World Cup event to Minneapolis, Friday felt like their own gold-medal day.
“Minnesota has won another big one,” former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak said in a news conference at the Trailhead, the $12 million outdoor activities center completed this year and donated by the Loppet Foundation to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
Rybak is a longtime supporter of the foundation, which promotes year-round outdoor adventure in the Minneapolis area, and is an honorary board member.
Beth Helle of Explore Minnesota, the state tourism agency, said Minnesota is “ready to roll out the white carpet.”
Minnesota has more than 2,000 miles of cross-country ski trails, she said, adding that winter visitors account for 24 percent of tourism spending in the state.
“Minneapolis does summer better than anyone else, but winning the 2020 World Cup is proof that Minneapolis also does winter better than anyone else,” said Mayor Jacob Frey.
The World Cup visit is among a number of high-profile sporting events recently held in or announced for the Twin Cities, including the Super Bowl, the Ryder Cup, the NCAA Men’s Final Four, the NCAA Women’s Final Four and the X Games.
Diggins hopes the opportunity to see world-class athletes compete in person will inspire future generations of Olympic hopefuls.
“When I was growing up, I would have done anything to see it live,” she said. “The only way I could watch [ski races] was on old VHS tapes in the basement with my dad, months after they happened.
“There’s something magical about the passion and the fire and the energy of an actual World Cup venue when you’re there, watching it all happen,” she said. “I’m so passionate about growing the sport and helping young skiers realize their dreams. And a big part of that is showing them what it actually looks like.”
Rybak said the Loppet Foundation plans to cover costs associated with the event through private fundraising, estimating the budget at about $1 million.
He and Frey said the public can expect to enjoy not only a ski race but an array of community events during race week.
The race will be a sprint of 1.6 kilometers for women and 1.9 kilometers for men.
The exact date hasn’t been determined, but it will be the final sprint event of the World Cup season, meaning that the season’s sprint champions will be crowned in Wirth Park.
“I am so happy and excited that this is working out,” Diggins said. Performing at home “will be incredible for me.”