Jessie Diggins on the Season Ahead: Nothing to Prove, and ‘So Psyched’ to Race Holmenkollen 50km


Jessie Diggins’s passion and drive have never been up for debate. But her fire is typically expressed in a Midwestern-nice register, more “oh gosh” than other, less printable four-letter words. Indeed, some Google sleuthing suggests that Diggins has never previously uttered the phrase “total crap” in an on-the-record interview currently findable anywhere online.

Keep that in mind when you hear Diggins’s thoughts on equal-distance racing ushering in the chance for her and the rest of the women’s field to compete in the inaugural Holmenkollen 50-kilometer race in March, later in this interview: “I think it’s total crap that the women never got to race this iconic distance. It made me feel really sad. And mad.”

Among other highlights, Diggins also said, about her mental outlook headed into this season, “I do feel like I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I could retire right now and be really happy with my life. But I’m still here, because I love to do what I do. And I love my team. And I think this is super fun. And that’s why I’m racing. I’m not racing because I feel like I have to win or I have to prove anything. And I think that takes a lot of the pressure off.”

She also talked about her overall season goals, team culture, and other athletes to watch for this season.

Diggins spoke with multiple members of the media in a Zoom press conference on Monday. Reporters’ questions have been rewritten in this transcript to be shorter and clearer; Diggins’s answers are unchanged. A few answers near the end come from Diggins’s longtime coach, Jason Cork, and have been noted as such.

Media: You’re recently arrived in Ruka after a lot of traveling. How is the team settling in, and how are things going so far since you’ve hit the ground in Ruka.

Diggins: It’s going really well. I can see out my window, there’s people out testing skis. They’ve got 3.3 [kilometers] rolled out, I believe the full 5km is either open by tonight or tomorrow. So that’s really exciting.

And it’s looking good. They always do a really good job here. It’s really challenging with the snow conditions being what they are, but they’ve been blowing a bunch of snow and doing a really good job. So I’m always really impressed with that. They work really hard to make the season open strong here.

I know it’s been a long prep period to to get to this point to kick off the season. But let’s let’s go back a little bit. Give us a little insight about what life was like post Olympic Winter Games in China.

I ended the season really tired. I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty smoked. So getting a chance to end it with the relay in Falun was really exciting. And after that, I was pretty much done.

So I was really happy to have a break. It was a long, stressful season, worrying about Covid all year. So it was a really nice spring to just have off and plan my wedding. That was really, really fun. So I got married at the end of May. It was the best day of my whole life. And I’m still really, really happy about it. So that was great. And it was just a really nice thing for us to focus on, and just focus on building a future together. So that was really great.

And then we got the team back together in Bend for season kickoff camp. It’s always really fun to see who’s new on the team and a lot of familiar faces. We have a lot of really young faces on the team, which I think is really exciting. We have such a great depth in our squad right now, and so much hard work and so much promise. So that’s always fun for me to see.

And then overall the prep period went really, really well. I was really pleased with it. We had a really great on-snow camp in Australia, with myself; Jason Cork, who’s my coach and tech; and my teammate, Julia Kern. So the three of us went down there and had a really awesome three weeks of training very hard, and also having a lot of fun doing a little crust skiing, too.

And then we had our final prep camp in October, in Park City, with the team, which went really, really well. That was a dryland camp, but it was great. So overall, I’m just really happy with how things have gone. And I’m feeling really excited about the year.

You just mentioned the team. There’s 22 athletes on the team this year. I think it’s one of the largest teams that we’ve had, and there’s a lot of depth there. How’s the dynamic on the team, including mentoring younger athletes and goal setting? 

Oh, I love it. I think it’s really cool.

Because — I’m always excited to start the season. But I think this is my tenth year coming to Ruka. And it’s easy, in my old age, to get a little cynical: “I’ve seen this, I’ve done this before.” And when you see people seeing the course for the first time, or starting their first World Cups, or someone’s really, really pumped to do their first sprint on the World Cup. It brings back that energy and that excitement and it makes me remember my first World Cup, and what I was nervous about and what I needed to know from my teammates.

And so I’m trying really hard to be a very open resource, so they know they can ask me anything. And just — I’m always clear, I try not to be pushy about it, but I want to make sure they know that they can ask me anything. So I really enjoy being a mentor for my younger teammates. And I think it’s important to recognize it’s not a one way street. They give me so much energy and perspective in return. So I think it’s a really good system.

Do you have a specific goal or goals for the season?

I do. I think, since the World Championships are in Planica, Slovenia, that’s obviously a big highlight for pretty much everyone, I would say. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think everyone’s pretty excited about it; it’s gonna be really cool.

So I’m always excited for World Champs, but especially those relays. I just live for that. And I think we’ve been knocking on the door many, many, many times. And so we’re excited to put on the striped socks and the glitter and the facepaint and be as ready as we can be.

And I always love that goal of the team relay, because it is the depth of a nation. And it shows how well did you push each other in summer training? Not just, “how well can you do,” but, “how well can all of you do.” And it takes commitment from a team. So I think that’s why I get excited about those.

On the personal side, I always get excited about the World Cup Overall. I think it will be definitely an interesting year with the equal distance initiative, and the World Cup points being a little bit different. So I’m excited to see how that plays out. But I also love to race everything. There really aren’t new races that I don’t like to do. So I’m excited to race as much and as hard as I can and see what I can do when chasing after the globes.

You obviously had a fantastic Olympics. Is there any carry-over pressure of high expectations that you’re feeling after such a huge Olympic success?

It’s kind of funny, because going into the last Olympics, I was like, Wow, this is probably the most pressure I’ll ever feel in my whole life. Because I was coming in as a defending gold medalist and a defending World Cup overall champion. So it was just, like, wow, if I can survive this, and the pressure of Covid on top of it, everything else will be a piece of cake.

That’s not true; pressure is pressure, and you feel it no matter what stage of life you’re in and what you’re doing. But I will say I feel a huge amount of relief this year. That’s not to say that I’m running around in grocery stores without a mask on; we’re still being very careful. And we don’t really want to get sick, ever, when we can help it. But I do feel like I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I could retire right now and be really happy with my life.

But I’m still here, because I love to do what I do. And I love my team. And I think this is super fun. And that’s why I’m racing. I’m not racing because I feel like I have to win or I have to prove anything. And I think that takes a lot of the pressure off. So I feel like I’m in a much better place now.

Since you brought up the change to equal-distance racing: How psyched are you, looking forward to the 50km at Holmenkollen.

Oh my god, I’m so psyched. I’ve been waiting my whole life to race the actual 50km at Holmenkollen. To be totally frank, I think it’s total crap that the women never got to race this iconic distance. It made me feel really sad. And mad. And so now I’m finally getting a chance to race it. 

I know I can, I’ve raced 50km multiple times in time trials in the summer at the end of training blocks, and I was fine. I didn’t need an ambulance at the finish line like they used to think they needed for women at the end of ski races. So it turns out, we’re okay.

I just think it’s really cool that we finally get the chance to do this. So I’m very, very grateful to FIS and everyone for making that change. I think it sends a really important message, more than the fact that, as a racer, I’m excited to do it. It’s the message that it sends to young women: you are totally capable of doing anything that you want to. If you train hard and you work hard, you can do it. And I think that’s the right message that we want to send.

[For reference, there is a single entry at the 50-kilometer distance in Diggins’s lengthy FIS profile, for a June 2019 rollerski race in Lunde, Norway. Diggins is undefeated in five entries in 42km marathons in Australia or New Zealand as part of her summer on-snow training.]

I know it’s a few winters off, but I wanted to get your thoughts on the trails at the 2026 Olympic venue in Val di Fiemme.

I love it there. I love that venue; they always do a great job. I have a lot of really positive memories, because that was where Kikkan and I won [the team sprint at World Championships] in 2013 together. So that was kind of my first big championship moment. So it’s kind of fun to see it come around again, on the other end of my career, and I think that’s going to be really special. It’s also going to be really cool to have the Olympics at a venue that’s already there, and existing. And so I think that’s fun from a sustainability perspective. I always really like to see that.

It’s hard to believe that it’s now five years [sic] since you and Kikkan snapped this long drought that everybody was tired of hearing about with the gold medal in Pyeongchang. But looking back, because the media had talked about this drought for so long dating back to Bill Koch, did you visibly notice a culture change earlier in your time on the national team? Were you just focused on what you had to do, or was this something you were aware of that you felt was physically happening with the team in the program?

That’s a good question. Because I kind of came right from high school into professional racing. And back in my high school days, we had a really great culture. It was really, really supportive. It was very welcoming, very open. It was very much this one team atmosphere, even though it’s an individual sport.

And then on the national team, I very much felt the same thing. I was the baby of the team. But right away, I felt like, Wow, this is a group that supports each other. And I feel like this is a really welcoming and safe space. And I thought that was really cool.

So to be honest, I felt like it was a really great transition; I felt really supported and welcomed the whole time. So I guess I didn’t notice a big shift, simply because I was very fortunate in that the group of men and women I was with when I came onto the team. We were kind of all invested in this idea of, you know, we’re going to support each other and help each other and make this thing happen in a really positive way. So I guess I didn’t really notice it because I was lucky enough to be part of it, I guess is the answer.

You’ve raced in three Olympics now, and here we are starting a whole new Olympic cycle. Was there a decision process for you to come back to the sport this season and continue on when you know that you’ve got this new Olympic cycle to face? And in making that decision, how much has the team atmosphere that you were just talking about impacted your decision to come back and continue to compete?

I’d say the biggest thing that impacts my decision is my husband. Because it’s really hard to spend time away from him on the road. We’re gone for four, four-and-a-half months. And the way our competition schedule is, it really doesn’t work for me to go home.

So I think the single biggest thing was that he really supports me and was like, You love doing this. Like, I can see it. You love training, even when it’s raining, even when it’s awful — for some reason, you really love what you do, and you love your team. And this is an amazing job.

And he was like, I can tell too that, even though it’s sometimes hard, you love talking about eating disorders and getting that out there and you love these things that you do. And you probably — you won’t be able to do this your whole life. So you might as well make the most of it as long as you can.

So I feel like his total, unconditional support of me continuing to do this was probably the biggest factor. Because I love what I do, but it’s not easy to be on the road all the time. So I feel a lot of love and support. And I think that makes it easier to be here. But I guess the other half of it is the team, because if this was super lonely and isolating, and if the team wasn’t a really welcoming, awesome place, then I probably would have been done a long time ago. So I think a lot of it is this great team chemistry that we have. Because it really does feel like a second family, and that makes it easier to be on the road for so long.

How have you evaluated and possibly changed your training during the offseason? Are you doing more hours or maybe slightly fewer hours than two or three years ago?

I think it’s more of, like — I guess in the last four years, we did drop the hours a little bit for the Olympic year to help give me a little bit of an energy boost.

Overall, though, my hours creep up very slightly every year. We want to make sure that I’m not plateauing, that I give myself room to grow, that I’m not just piling on a bunch of hours really quickly. I think that’s a really good way to accidentally overtrain or burn out. So I think we’ve been we’ve been really careful. And by “we,” I mean, that’s Jason Cork; I had nothing to do with it. He’s the brains behind the operation. But he did a really good job of making a really steady progression, so that I could add just a little bit every year. So I don’t think there’s ever been a huge jump.

But I would say the biggest way my training has changed is there’s been a little bit more of a focus on trying to really maximize that on-snow time. Because a lot of the changes I want to make are technique-based. That’s not to say that my fitness can’t improve, but I feel like pure fitness can be gained just as easily on rollerskis. But in terms of, for example, striding on steep hills with somewhat tricky snow conditions, you really can only improve that when you’re on snow.

And so things like this three-week camp in Australia, where we got a chance to, you know, work on herringbone, you can’t really do that on rollerskis. So that’s something that we’ve tried to really push hard the last couple years, and try to really make sure any time I’m on snow, it’s very focused. So even here [in Ruka], I’ve been doing drills every day, and we’ve had a lot of technique video to look at, and we’re trying to use every minute that we can.

More and more people are talking about rest and active recovery now than I think has ever been the case in the sport. My guess is that you pay a lot of attention to rest and recovery as well.

I do. I love sleeping. I’m a big sleeper. So I try really hard to prioritize. And — well I don’t try to prioritize, I do prioritize rest and sleeping. So that’s the biggest thing.

I also do a lot of body care. We’re really fortunate on the team to be traveling with a massage therapist and a physical therapist a lot of the time. So that’s absolutely huge. And I think the biggest thing is just trying to actually listen to my body. So not just noticing, “Am I tired?” But, “Am I tired and am I willing to act on that information, and potentially adjust my training if I need to in order to get the most out of it?”

What are your thoughts on the rest of the team. You and Rosie Brennan are the veterans on the women’s team these days. What do you think about the younger members, and how they’re looking this season?

Really good, is the answer. And I think not just good as in they’re moving fast on the trails — although they are, at least from what I can tell, skiing around watching everyone do intervals — but I think they’re looking good in terms of superb attention to detail. They’re really, really thoughtful with technique. They’re analyzing video, they’re taking turns picking each other apart in a productive way, like, “Hey, what can I work on? What do you think? What do you see here?”

And I think that’s really, really cool; you see that teamwork in action. And I think they’re very thoughtful in their approach to training. It’s not just, you know, more, more, more, I’m gonna hammer, hammer, hammer. It’s very thoughtful on, What do I need for long-term sustainability? So — not just anyone in particular, but just pretty much all my teammates, I would say, it’s really good, thoughtful, hard training. And I’d say when it’s time to go really hard, they go hard. And when it’s time to go easy, they’re really smart about it, and really measured in their approach to training.

Is there anybody you see maybe breaking through to the podium this season?

Oh, gosh. It’s so hard because you don’t know — I mean, sprint day, everything could be going well, and then someone crashes on you or your pole breaks, or whatever. So, obviously, you don’t really know.

But I would say we could expect to see probably Julia on the podium again this season. I think it’s been looking really, really good. She’s been pushing me hard in intervals, and I’m really impressed. I feel like Gus has been knocking on the door for a while. JC and Ben, especially in sprinting, it’s just really impressive. And again, it’s hard to know until you see them race, but I’m really impressed with what I’ve seen so far.

You recently shared on Instagram a video of you finding all the mail that had piled up at home. And I had some follow-up questions on that video. One was, was one of those pieces a wedding invitation from strangers. And two, did you ever hear back from Josie about her letter? And is there anything that you can share about why it touched you so much?

It was a wedding invitation. And it looked really cool. And unfortunately, by the time I found it, the wedding had already passed. So I did not go. That might have been weird if I had, but it was really touching. So that was cute. I honestly just felt really bad because I had lost this pile of mail.

But — and I think it’s okay for me to share this, because it’s just a first name. So there’s no way of actually tracking who it is. This girl had written while in recovery at the Emily Program. [The Emily Program, an eating disorder treatment and recovery program, has long been one of Diggins’s headwear sponsors. Diggins has written movingly about her struggles with and recovery from an eating disorder.]

And so I don’t have her address. But it was really touching. She shared her story with me. And I wanted to get ahold of her and tell her that she’s doing a great job, and she’s doing all the right things and working really hard. And that it is a hard process, and recovery isn’t a very linear thing; it can kind of go up and down and sometimes backwards a little, but ultimately, you’re going forwards. And I was kind of hoping I’d find a way to reach her. But I haven’t yet.

[This question came from Christa Case Bryant, a former pro skier and former nordic ski reporter who is now the Congressional correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor.] I wanted to follow up on your visit to Capitol Hill last spring because I now cover Congress and I thought it was very apropos that you talked about how trying to get bipartisan legislation through is making lawmakers feel like maybe you did when you had food poisoning in the 30km in China. I’m wondering if in your advocacy with Protect Our Winters, did you find ways to sort of cross those partisan divides on climate and see evidence that maybe independents or Republicans who love the outdoors could be brought on board through that work to help support more robust climate solutions.

Absolutely. Thanks for asking about that. I had a really great trip to the Capitol with Protect Our Winters this spring. Gus Schumacher also came; he’s new to Protect Our Winters; that was really, really cool. It was his first trip; he did a great job. And it was very cool.

They had the Republican Climate Solutions Caucus there. They had a meeting, and I was able to speak at it, along with Protect Our Winters. I use the story of battling through food poisoning and the 30km as kind of an example of, You know, sometimes conditions are not perfect. And just because something’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. And finally, finding solutions that both sides agree on is really hard. But it is worthwhile. And in fact, we all depend on it.

So it was very, very cool to be able to talk to people. And I think it’s easy when we talk about climate change to sometimes get a little cynical and kind of give up, because it is such a long, uphill battle. But I think that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to give up on it. So I am really hopeful — there were a lot of members of this Republican Climate Solutions Caucus, and they did seem like they were really, really invested.

I think we don’t always agree on how to go about solving climate change. But there was an agreement that this is a problem, it is a manmade problem, and that we are the ones who need to fix it. And that’s huge. I think that’s some really great progress.

And I think — we do spend a lot of time focusing with Protect Our Winters on how to get people to use their voice. So it was really cool to see — athletes like David Wise had been part of Protect Our Winters for a long time. And I think he’s a registered Independent or maybe a registered Republican voter. And he’s, like, Yeah, I care about climate. That’s like one of the most important things to me.

And so I think there’s some really cool examples out there. People were like, Yeah, this shouldn’t be an issue that we have to take sides on, it should be the same team. So I think that’s been really awesome.

It was, for me, a very uplifting visit; it gave me a lot of hope. And it made me renew my drive to keep working with Protect Our Winters and see how far we can take it. And that said, I think it’s — this is a lifelong thing. It’s not even that it’s not a sprint and it’s a marathon, this is like a lifelong race to try to save our planet. So we have to make sure we pace ourselves and don’t completely burn out.

You were a big advocate for bringing a World Cup to Minneapolis in 2020. And then when all the barriers were up, Covid happened and it got canceled. I was wondering about plans to bring the World Cup back to North America in 2023, if you had any thoughts on the importance of that for U.S. skiing. [The reference is to tentative plans to host several World Cup races in North America in February 2024, including multiple races in each of Canmore, Minneapolis, and Cable.]

Oh my gosh, it would be huge. It would be so cool.

It was obviously incredibly heartbreaking that it got canceled like five days before, back in 2020. I think not just because we want a chance to race in our own country, although that would be very cool. But I think because of how many kids would get to see and experience that kind of energy. I mean, I’ve raced a lot of races in my life. But the first time we went to a World Cup, that energy was electric. It was so cool. It felt bigger than big. I felt so inspired. It just really got me fired up. And I want everyone to experience that.

And I think one of the other cool things is — Minneapolis, the race in Theodore Wirth [Park] is in the middle of the city. It’s accessible to a more diverse array of people. I think that’s really awesome. And I know that’s a big focus to keep this pretty accessible. When you think about some of the best sporting events in the world, you know, not everyone gets a chance to be just feet away from the athletes at the Super Bowl or the Final Four or any of those races and competitions. But at a World Cup? Tons and tons of people can line the course, and for a reasonable ticket price they can be close enough to reach out and touch the athletes. That’s amazing, how many more kids are going to have access to skiers that way. So I think it would be so important for inspiring the next generation and inspiring families to get outside in the winter and be healthy and be active. So for a whole lot of reasons, besides just the fact that we love to race at home, I think it’d be really amazing to get these races off the ground.

Do you have a long-term plan in place to go, or try to go, back to the Olympics in 2026? Is that something you’re operating with, or are you taking things sort of one season at a time?

If I’m healthy and uninjured, I’m definitely planning to do the 2026 Olympics.

World champion Gyda Westvold Hansen, bib no. 1, leads the rest of the field in forming an X with their poles (for “no eXception”) prior to the start of a women’s nordic combined race in Beitostølen, Norway, last weekend. Hansen drew a beard on her face with marker prior to the race, to express her displeasure that athletes “have to look like this or have a beard” to be able to compete at the Olympics.

I’ve recently been interviewing a bunch of women Nordic Combined athletes who are heartbroken after the IOC decision not to include their sport in the 2026 Olympics. And I was wondering if you had any words of support or encouragement for your compatriots in that sport?

I’m heartbroken for them. That’s really, really hard. Because it’s really hard to see a sport get cut. And you really want to see men and women be able to compete in all these different events. And I know they’ve been having a long uphill battle for years about this.

So I just would encourage them to — you know, I know a few of them have transitioned and taken it up with another sport. So they’re not giving up. They’re still working hard. And I just want them to know that we’re cheering them on. We really support them. And I’m pretty heartbroken for them, because we also really supported their drive to get that to happen.

[this question was directed to Jason Cork] Are you guys targeting any specific races this year?

Cork: I know Jessie definitely prioritizes — I mean, everything is important in the World Cup overall, but I think the 50km would be a really cool one to win, personally. It’s the first one that they’ll have, and she’s had good success in Holmenkollen before. Yeah, it’d be great to see a win in Norway.

You’re the team behind the team, and there’s a lot that goes into Jessie going fast on race day. It’s not just her fitness, but it’s also the skis, it’s the structure, it’s the wax. Is there anything new that you’re changing around this year, as far as ski prep for Jessie?

Cork: No, not really. One cool thing we have going on this year is we have a fellowship that was partially funded by the Trail to Gold team. We have five women who are coming to kind of — I don’t know if “intern” is the right phrase, but to join the World Cup and get some experience waxing and coaching at a different stage. And we’re really looking forward to that. But otherwise, nothing really has changed. The fluoro ban has been postponed yet another year, so we still know what we’re doing right now. So we’ll see what happens next year.

This was several months ago, but I was wondering what your reaction was when you found out that Therese Johaug had retired. And if you were surprised that she made this announcement right after the Olympics.

[Back to Diggins:] Not really, because I had talked with her a little bit, and she kind of, like, hinted that she was ready to have some other things in life besides just skiing. And I think there comes a time for all of us when we’re ready to see what else is out there besides training all the time. So I think it’s just sort of a natural part of things, but we are really going to miss her. She makes racing really exciting when you’re in a mass start. And she’s one of the all-time greats in the history of our sport. She’s a legend, and so it’s definitely going to be different racing in the World Cup circuit without her.

It will definitely be different pacing in the mass starts off the gun, so I think that’s going to be different. But I hope she’s doing well, and I’m wishing her all the best. I’m thinking, though, maybe we’ll get a chance to see her when we do World Cups in Norway.

— Gavin Kentch

Would you like to read more articles like this? Would you like to help cover the site’s expenses to send Gavin on in-person reporting trips to both Houghton and Whistler for U.S. Nationals and World Juniors? Find out more about our GoFundMe (terms and conditions: we’re donating anything in excess of actual expenses back to NNF), and consider donating, here. You may have noticed that there are not, currently, any ads up on this site; your support truly makes a huge difference to the financial viability of this startup website. Thank you for your consideration.

Leave a Reply

Share post:



More like this

Made in America: Zak Ketterson Takes On World Cup Men’s Distance Skiing

Zak Ketterson, the Captain America of the U.S. Ski...

Breaking the Silence: Holly Brooks Produces Video on Eating Disorders and Athletes

Holly Brooks has made a video that she would...

The Phenom Next Door: Gus Schumacher Looks to Lahti (2019)

This article was originally published in January 2019. ANCHORAGE, Alaska...

Kikkan Randall: The Exit Interview (Part I): Looking Back (2018)

This article was originally published on FasterSkier on May...
%d bloggers like this: