BEIJING — Jessie Diggins didn't cry when she lay in bed with food poisoning. She admitted she had a moment of self-pity, but with her final race at the Beijing Olympics only hours away, that wasn't going to do any good.
She bit her lip Sunday, too, when her legs began cramping during the brutal 30-kilometer freestyle. And when a sharp wind buffeted her face, already numb from the 5-degree cold. And when she struggled to remember what lap she was on, as she willed her way through an 85-minute marathon.
When Diggins approached the finish, though, she felt the tears coming. The Afton native could hear dozens of people cheering her on, helping to lift her to an Olympic silver medal in one of the gutsiest races of her career.
On the final day of the Beijing Olympics, Diggins seized her last shot to make more history in the mountains of Zhangjiakou. She finished second to runaway winner Therese Johaug of Norway, earning her second medal of the Beijing Games. Diggins' silver matched the best Olympic finish ever by a U.S. cross-country skier in an individual event, and it made her the first American in the sport to win more than one medal at a single Olympics.
“I felt like the whole world was helping me get up those hills. I just kept thinking, 'I've got to keep pushing as hard as I can. I can't back down.' . . . That was so hard. But it was so special.”
Diggins, 30, will leave Beijing with medals in the shortest and longest races on the program: a bronze in the sprint and a silver in the 30km. Already known as one of the most fearless skiers in the world, Sunday's performance just added to her legend.
"That might have been the best race of my entire life,'' Diggins said. "I'm not going to lie. It was also maybe the hardest race of my entire life.
"We had so much cheering out there. It felt like everyone was out there, and when it got really hard, everyone was just breathing with me. I thought, 'I just can't give up.' … I don't know how I made it to the finish. It was amazing.''
Johaug left everyone else far behind to win her third gold medal of the Beijing Games. She finished in one hour, 24 minutes, 54 seconds, with Diggins 1:43.3 behind. Bronze medalist Kerttu Niskanen of Finland was another 50 seconds back, and Rosie Brennan of the U.S. finished sixth.
Jessie's parents, Deb and Clay, watched the race in Park City, Utah, at a gathering for family members of U.S. Olympians. Saturday night, they had been on the phone with their daughter, trying to keep her spirits up.
Jessie became ill that morning, unable to keep any food or liquid down. Deb told her not to give up hope. She advised Jessie to wait and see how she felt at the start of the race, and at each 5km checkpoint.
With her mind in a better place, Jessie tried to get her body there, too, slurping down sports drinks and forcing herself to eat oatmeal and canned soup.
It was "a wild, wild 25 hours,'' Jessie said. The way it ended was even wilder.
"What an awesome night,'' Deb Diggins said. "Once Jessie had gapped Ebba (Andersson) by over 30 seconds, we were feeling pretty confident, but we stayed a little nervous until the finish.''
The medal gave Diggins a complete set. In 2018, she teamed with Kikkan Randall to win gold in the team sprint at the Pyeongchang Olympics, the first Winter Games gold won by the U.S. in cross-country skiing. For the second consecutive Olympics, she raced in all six events and placed in the top eight in every one.
Downhill champion Lindsey Vonn and speedskater Amy Peterson are the only other Minnesota natives who can drape three Winter Olympics individual-sport medals around her neck. Hockey star Jenny Schmidgall-Potter owns a Minnesota-best four Winter Olympics medals.
Sunday, Diggins became the first non-European to earn an Olympic medal in the women's 30km. Given the weather forecast — subzero wind chills, and a stiff wind blowing snow across the course — the race was moved up by 3½ hours. Diggins' parents reminded her it was nothing she hadn't seen before.
"This course, this weather, was just like skiing at Giants Ridge when I was a kid,'' she said. "I was like, 'You know, I'm just going to go out there and ski, because I love to race. And we'll see what happens.'''
Johaug led from the start. Diggins stayed within a few seconds of her in the early going, in a lead pack that also included Sweden's Andersson and Delphine Claudel of France.
The race covered four laps around a 7.5km course, and Johaug was already pulling away by the midpoint of the second lap. Looking fresh even on the climbs, she peeked back over her shoulder at the 12km mark to see the rest of the field in the distance. Diggins kept grinding, putting some space between her and Andersson.
At 15km, Diggins had a 48-second gap on Andersson. Claudel had dropped back to the chase pack, which wasn't gaining any ground. But Diggins had begun to feel a twinge in her knee, a sign she was about to start cramping.
"I was like, 'Oh, boy,''' she said. "I was drinking, and I kept trying to put down more sugar. I focused on the parts of my body that did feel good, and I had to give myself pep talks.''
The cramping spread through her legs and hips. Her big cheering section — which included the U.S. biathlon team and the U.S. ski team — gave Diggins some extra willpower, and she drew confidence from her very fast skis.
At the finish line, Diggins said, "I thought I was going to die.'' She made it across, collapsed on the snow and was wrapped in an American flag by support staff.
Once she was able to get up, Diggins had a video chat with her parents and her fiancé. She felt relieved to get through the race, grateful for the support of so many people, proud to have won what she called the "ultimate bookends'' of medals in the sprint and the 30km.
"I felt like the whole world was helping me get up those hills,'' she said. "I just kept thinking, 'I've got to keep pushing as hard as I can. I can't back down.'
"It's been an emotional rollercoaster, but I'm so happy we made it to the end. That was so hard. But it was so special.''