Monday Media for Nov. 7: Rosie Brennan on Process and Mastery; Jessie Diggins on Training, Goals, and the Olympic 30km


Welcome back to an all-domestic version of Monday Media. This week, the focus is on two American women in their early 30s: Rosie Brennan talks on her blog about the importance of patience and what she gained from focusing on long-term mastery over short-term results, while Jessie Diggins talks on a podcast about training intensity, goals, the epochal 30km skate in Beijing, and dealing with online critics in an age of social media.

Rosie Brennan on the process of mastery, and the importance of patience

Rosie Brennan’s story has been told before, but it is still worth considering what the longtime athlete has been through in her career. She achieved some success in NCAA skiing, back in an era (ca. 2010) when collegiate skiing was seen as relatively suspect by the U.S. Ski Team. She was named to the U.S. Ski Team, for the first time, and the future seemed bright.

Fast forward most of a decade. Following the 2017/2018 season, in which Brennan competed in Pyeongchang but finished third-to-last in her only Olympic race while suffering from an undiagnosed case of mono, U.S. Ski & Snowboard cut her from the national team. For the second time. She self-funded her way to Europe for the 2018/2019 World Cup season, where she logged a healthy twelve top-30 finishes. At the end of the season, U.S. Ski & Snowboard gave her an award for overcoming adversity, and named her to the national team. For the third time.

Brennan’s results in the 2019/2020 season were stronger yet. And her results in the 2020/2021 season now lead off her entry on Wikipedia: “On 13 December 2020, she became the second American cross-country skier to win back-to-back World Cup races, after Kikkan Randall in 2011.” Brennan would come tantalizingly close to medals over the next two seasons, logging a fourth and fifth at 2021 World Champs; a fourth and fourth for both the overall and distance standings for the 2020/2021 World Cup season; and a fourth, fifth, sixth, and sixth at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

“She’s at the absolute peak of her career. It’s been a long, wonderful career, a challenging career. And you just want to see a medal wrapped around her neck,” USST coach Matt Whitcomb told Nat Herz at the close of those Olympics. USST program director Chris Grover, in the same article, observed of the epochal Beijing 30km in which Brennan (as Herz wrote) “dragged an uncooperative chase pack back into medal contention” only to lose out on a final sprint for bronze, “It’s really hard when the medals only go three places.”

Please keep all that background in mind when you read Brennan’s recent blog post, “Why Skiing Age is More Important than my Biological Age.” Brennan, who turns 34 in less than a month, notes that she didn’t start skiing until actual age 14, such that, when she won her first World Cup race, she was only at skiing age 17.

It’s a humorous math problem that should not keep you from appreciating Brennan’s deeper points about the process of dedication, mastery, and, well, process.

“I am anything but patient, Brennan writes, “but luckily, I am stubborn, and that resulted in me relentlessly pursuing the path of mastery in skiing despite the many bumps along the way. In turn, I have had to learn a small amount of patience to give myself the space to develop in my own time, to master the skills needed to be competitive on a global stage, to develop the fitness to race a full season, and maybe most importantly to develop the perspective and mental skills needed to face failure down, learn, and continue on.”

It is a powerful essay that is well worth your time. You can, and should, read the whole thing here. Then check out Herz’s long piece in the Anchorage Daily News from this February for more on Brennan’s career, and the silver linings of the Olympics.

Jessie Diggins on training, goals, and that Olympic 30km

You likely remember the women’s 30-kilometer mass start skate race from Beijing. Therese Johaug won a richly deserved final gold medal by skiing alone in horrific conditions for nearly the entire race. Rosie Brennan, as noted above, missed an early break, chased hard with a chase pack that wouldn’t do any work alongside her, and ultimately missed out on a bronze medal by seconds in the stadium.

Meanwhile, you assuredly remember, Jessie Diggins was skiing to an equally deserved silver medal ahead of her. It was an impressive and gutsy performance, made all the more so by the fact that, she later divulged, she had been suffering from food poisoning in the 24 hours leading up to the race, and had barely been able to keep down any food.

Diggins spoke at length about this race, but also a range of other topics, on a recent episode of Chad Salmela’s “Threshold” podcast. (If you recognize Salmela’s name for only one thing, it would be for his “Here comes Diggins!” call from Pyeongchang, but Salmela is also a former member of the U.S. biathlon national team, and a longtime ski and running coach for the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth. He has commented on the last five Winter Olympics, and was the biathlon manager for the 2002 Olympics before that.)

Diggins provides an in-depth look at the Beijing 30km, including the tearful phone calls that she made leading up to it, and her strategy as the race unfolded. But she speaks far more broadly than that, providing, among other things, a frank look at what she’s still trying to accomplish in the sport, suddenly a relevant question now that she is 31 years old and has seven Olympic or World Championship medals to her name. “Get better at classic skiing” is part of it, but the full answer is more nuanced than that.

Diggins also engages in some honest self-reflection about how she goes hard in training — or, more precisely, how she typically manages/has to refrain from going that hard (see above). She and longtime coach Jason Cork have developed a shorthand for the practical effects of workout intensity, in which Cork will caution, say, “No leaning on the poles at the end of this.” Or, say, “Leaning on the poles is fine, but no collapsing.” Diggins is plain-spoken about the physical cost of going collapsing–seeing stars–feels like death hard, and discusses how she and Cork work together to meter out these efforts over the course of a training season.

Finally, an athlete who is pretty much universally beloved in American media, skiing or otherwise, opens up about dealing with negative comments online.

“In this world of social media, I have gained so much compassion for the American teenager,” Diggins tells Salmela. “Because the trolling, and the attacks on my character, and the people twisting your words into something that you’re so clearly not even trying to say, and the cancel culture thing. And I have experienced a very little bit of it. … That part has honestly been hard for me. Because I’ve never had super thick skin. And it’s so easy from the outside to go, ‘Oh, you’ve just got to grow a thick skin.’ But that is hard to do. Especially when people come after your character.”

If there are negative comments about, say, her technique, Diggins finds it easier to brush it off. “But then when people come after your character, that’s really hard.”

The episode was released on October 30. You can list to it here (Apple Podcasts) or here (Spotify), or wherever else you get your podcasts.

— Gavin Kentch

Leave a Reply

Share post:



More like this

Domestic Teams Preview 2023: Stratton Mountain School

What is the official name of this ski team?...

Domestic Teams Preview 2023: Gus Schumacher, JC Schoonmaker, Novie McCabe, Renae Anderson Join APU

Speaking at a press conference this February in advance...

Laukli Wins Again at Pikes Peak Ascent; Rémi Bonnet Takes Down 1993 Course Record in Men’s Race

Sophia Laukli wins. Again. Racing against a full international...

Pikes Peak Preview: Sophia Laukli Prepares to Go Uphill Fast

Sophia Laukli has proven on multiple occasions this summer...
%d bloggers like this: