PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – When Jessie Diggins first learned to ski, she imitated her parents. Clay and Deb Diggins preferred the freestyle “skate” technique, and the method Jessie honed on Minnesota trails carried her to World Cup prominence.
The desire to become a stronger all-around skier led Diggins to keep working on her classic technique. She has made major strides since the 2014 Olympics, which she hopes to show in Tuesday’s classic sprint at the Pyeongchang Winter Games.
Diggins will be one of the U.S. skiers in the field.
Sadie Bjornsen is the best classic sprinter among the U.S. women. She has helped Diggins improve her classic chops, while Diggins has returned the favor by helping Bjornsen polish her freestyle form. They teamed up to take the bronze medal in the classic team sprint at last year’s world championships, which Diggins termed “a huge breakthrough.”
“That was big for me, being able to hold my own,” Diggins said of that medal, the first for the U.S. in a classic event at the world championships. “I’ve always loved skating. But I want to do everything, and I want to do it well. It’s going to take years and years and years, but I’m chipping away at it.”
To develop as a classic skier, Diggins has had to learn to handle imperfect conditions. Last summer, during an on-snow camp in New Zealand, she put in three to four hours a day working on classic technique.
While she’s studied the physics involved, Diggins said that for her, it’s all about the feel of the stride. She used to get five out of every 10 strides in that sweet spot; now, she’s worked up to getting eight of 10, and being able to do it comfortably on any course and any kind of footing.
This season, Diggins has had two top-10 finishes in the classic sprint in World Cup events.
“When the snow is changing and the conditions are tricky, you have to be adaptable,” said. “You have to be able to change the way you ski, going from power kicks to feathering the kick and dancing my way up the hill. That’s something I’ve put a lot of time into.
“I have to be gentle with myself. It’s not going to come overnight. But over the years, I’ve been changing the way I am and the way I feel as a classic skier, telling myself I can do it.”