Jessie Diggins & Rosie Brennan Advance To Olympic Sprint Final, Diggins Wins Bronze
by Peggy Shinn
Jessie Diggins celebrates with a flag during the women's cross-country sprint free final flower ceremony at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 8, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.
ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Twenty years ago, the idea that two U.S. women would make the final of a cross-country skiing sprint would have been unthinkable.
But fast forward two decades, and tonight it became a strong reality at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. Olympic veterans Jessie Diggins and Rosie Brennan advanced to the final of the freestyle sprint, with Diggins crossing the line in third place and Brennan just behind in fourth.
The Swedish duo of Jonna Sundling and Maja Dahlqvist claimed the gold and silver medals. Sundling skied off the front of the six-woman final for the win in the 1.5-kilometer sprint.
With the bronze medal, Diggins, at 30, became the first U.S. woman to win an individual medal in cross-country skiing. But she is the first to acknowledge that it takes the team around her to win any medal.
“I'm just so grateful,” she said after the victory ceremony. “That's the overwhelming emotion because it takes so much from such a huge team to make this happen.”
Diggins, 30, has long credited her team with her journey to the sport’s highest reaches. In her career to date, she has won four world championship medals, the Tour de Ski, an overall world cup title, and an Olympic gold medal. That medal at the Olympic Winter Games 2018 came in the team sprint, with Kikkan Randall.
“We have amazing skiers,” Diggins said of the U.S. team, “but also amazing teammates for years and years and years, helping me train, pushing me, supporting me, amazing coaches, amazing volunteer staff. I mean, you can't even imagine how much it took from so many people.
“I'm just so thankful because I feel like this medal belongs to about 1,000 different people.”
Since her first world cup race in 2012, Diggins has been key in pushing the team forward. She has world class talent, with an ability to go deep into the pain cave. It could be called her super power.
But she and her teammates, along with their coaches, have also emphasized teamwork, knowing that a positive, supportive environment will do more to put people on the podium than just about anything else.
“This really belongs to the whole team,” Diggins said of her bronze medal. “It’s taken so many years to get here, to have a U.S. woman win an individual medal, and that's something that doesn't happen alone, and it doesn't happen without a lot of help.”
— Team USA (@TeamUSA) February 8, 2022
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Also impressive, the U.S. put seven skiers in the sprint heats tonight. Julia Kern qualified 14th, and in the men’s sprint, all four U.S. skiers made the heats, with JC Schoonmaker qualifying 13th, Ben Ogden 19th, Kevin Bolger 22nd, and Luke Jager 30th.
From the quarterfinals, only Ogden moved on to the semis. The University of Vermont senior finished sixth in his heat and did not move on to the men’s final.
Diggins and Brennan showed their speed in the sprint qualifier, which determines the 30 skiers who move on to the quarterfinals. Brennan, 33, finished second behind behind Sundling, with Diggins finishing fifth. The day looked promising. But anything can happen in a sprint.
Brennan’s Olympic sprint looked disappointing from the start of her quarterfinal — and even before then. She showed up at the venue with two left ski boots (the U.S. men saved the day there, retrieving the right boot from the Olympic Village).
Then she fell as she pushed out from the gate in her quarterfinal and found herself in the snow. She has struggled with sprint starting gates so had been working on them for the past six weeks back in Anchorage with her boyfriend Tyler.
“The first thing in my mind was, oh my gosh, I just messed that up so badly,” said Brennan after the race.
But she also knew the long grinding climb on the 1.5-kilometer course was her strength, so she decided to focus on rejoining the pack on the climb. She crossed the line in second place and moved onto the semifinal. Then after the semifinal, she misplaced her warmup clothing. It was, she said, a day of chaos.
Although fourth is often considered the hardest place to finish, Brennan was happy with her race. She never used to think of herself as a freestyle sprinter but has done well in the event recently.
“Fourth place is hard,” she admitted. You feel really happy and also frustrated at the same time.”
“But you know, I did everything I could today and maybe not everything went perfectly my way,” she added. “But I have to be happy with that at the end of the day.”
Diggins, who was favored to win a medal in the freestyle sprint, was happy to have a teammate in the final.
“I'm so proud of Rosie,” said Diggins. “She's skiing so well. And she's doing everything right. I think it bodes well [for the upcoming Olympic races].”
Even beyond the bronze medal, Diggins was happy to be skiing well at her third Olympic Games. Since winning the Olympic gold medal four years ago, she has faced increasing pressure and expectations.
“This hasn't been easy,” she admitted. “I think it was such a victory just to make it to the final and know that I'm skiing well.”
With two Americans in the sprint final, the team sprint next week looks promising — the event in which Diggins and Randall won gold four years ago. But at this Olympic Winter Games, the team sprint will be in the classic technique — Brennan’s strength. Not to mention, Diggins won a bronze medal at the 2017 world championships in a classic team sprint (with retired teammate Sadie Maubet-Bjornsen).
Hannah Halvorsen also competed in the Olympic sprint, finishing the qualifier in 43rd, not advancing to the sprint heats. A former junior world championship medalist and Youth Olympic Games participant, Halvorsen, 23, has had a journey of resilience coming into these Winter Games. Two years ago, she was hit by a car as she crossed a street in Anchorage, where she now lives and trains.
Asked if it was hard to have her Olympic experience boiled down to one three-and-a-half-minute race, Halvorsen perhaps spoke for every Olympian.
“It depends who you ask,” she said. “For me, just to be here, to be an Olympian, that took so much. It doesn't feel like just three minutes. It feels about 12 years. I feel very complete.”