In Hard Fought Team Sprint, Rosie Brennan & Jessie Diggins Finish 5th, Men 9th
by Peggy Shinn
Jessie Diggins competes during the women's cross-country team sprint classic during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 16, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.
ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Jessie Diggins came to the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 knowing that she had nothing to defend.
Sure, she and Kikkan Randall had won the cross-country team sprint at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games — the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. in cross-country skiing and the first medal of any kind for the women.
But every cross-country race is different, with disciplines changing from Olympiad to Olympiad. The team sprint was a freestyle event at the 2018 Winter Games; it was a classic event at the 2022 Games. Diggins is a stronger freestyle skier. It would be like Michael Phelps swimming the 200-meter butterfly at one Summer Games, then having to swim the 200 breaststroke in the next.
“I’m not trying to compare today to four years ago,” said Diggins after the team sprint. “It’s a different course, different altitude, different technique. Literally nothing is the same. And that’s OK.”
As the sun set over the Zhangjiakou National Cross-Country Skiing Centre and temperatures hovered around 4 degrees Fahrenheit, Rosie Brennan and Diggins were in medal contention until the final leg of the 2022 classic team sprint. The two Olympic veterans gave it their all and crossed the line in fifth.
“Today was going out there and skiing for Rosie and skiing as hard as I could and as best as I could,” added Diggins. “I’ve been working so hard on classic skiing for a very long time. We’re starting to get there. I’m really proud of this race and giving it our best fight.”
On the final lap, as five women fought for three medals, Finland’s Krista Parmakoski and Germany’s Victoria Carl put the hammer down on the 1.5-kilometer course’s main climb. Only current world cup leader Natalia Nepryaeva from the Russian Olympic Committee and Sweden’s Jonna Sundling (who won the 2022 Olympic individual sprint gold medal last week) could hang with them.
Carl surged at the finish to win Germany’s second Olympic gold medal in the women’s team sprint in 22:09.85. Sweden, with Sundling as anchor, was the odds-on favorite to win gold in the classic team sprint but finished with silver 0.17 of a second behind Germany. Nepryaeva finished third for the bronze medal in 22:10.56.
Diggins crossed the line in fifth, 12.93 seconds behind Carl.
“I finished with zero sugars left and was dizzy and sick and am currently wearing all the clothes of my team,” Diggins said. “I definitely went as hard as I could.
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Beijing 2022? Visit TeamUSA.org/Beijing-2022-Olympic-Games to view the competition schedule, medal table and results.
Rosie Brennan competes during the Women's Cross-Country Team Sprint Classic Semifinals at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 16, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.
Brennan, too, was proud of her race.
“It was one of my better classic races this week,” she said. “I’m really happy to have put it together by the end of the Olympics. I did what I could to stay in contact to give Jessie her best shot. I’m happy with that.”
After Diggins and Brennan finished 3-4 in the individual freestyle sprint last week, their chances of winning a medal in the team sprint looked good. The U.S. women get excited for team events, donning their “trademark” red-white-and-blue striped relay socks and face glitter, and they have had particular success in the team sprint. At the 2013 world championships, Diggins and Randall won the U.S.’s first world championship title in the team sprint (a freestyle event that year).
Four years later, at the 2017 world championships, Diggins again competed in the team sprint, this time with Sadie Maubet-Bjornsen (who retired at the end of last season). It was a classic event that year, and Diggins sprinted with Sweden down the finish stretch, the bronze medal on the line.
Propelling Diggins was the thought, “I have to do this for Sadie!”
And she did.
Then in the famous “Here comes Diggins!” team sprint finish at the 2018 Winter Games, Diggins outsprinted Sweden again, this time for an Olympic gold medal. Afterward, Diggins expressed her joy that the women’s first Olympic medal had come in a team event.
“We always said any medal we got was going to belong to the team,” she said at the time. “It was the team that got us here and gave us this opportunity and pushed us so hard in training all summer long.”
For the past decade, Diggins, now 30, has anchored almost all of the team events (sprints and relays). Brennan became a likely candidate to join her in the 2022 Olympic team relay after making several world cup podiums in the past couple of years. Plus, Brennan is a strong classic skier, and she almost won a medal in the individual sprint last week.
As Diggins and Brennan prepared for the team sprint, they put on their striped relay socks (over heated socks). But the face glitter had to go on top of the tape keeping their faces warm in the frigid conditions.
“We’ve got to have the glitter somehow,” joked Brennan.
After a tough start in the team sprint final, where Brennan found herself in last place on the first climb, she aggressively moved to the front before tagging Diggins for her first (of three) 1.5-kilometer laps. From there, the Americans stayed at or near the front for the next four laps.
On the final lap, Diggins was gapped by the surging Finnish and German women. Asked what happened, she replied, “I was just focused on skiing as hard as I could.”
Although the Americans did not win a team sprint medal at this Olympic Winter Games, Brennan and Diggins were happy with fifth.
Brennan put it in perspective for those watching from home, many of whom are unfamiliar with cross-country skiing.
“You know, we’re racing in world cups every weekend all winter long and world championships every other year,” she said. “If you look at the results from all of those races, this is in the ballpark.”
“It’s been a good experience,” she added. “We’ll head straight back to the world cup and keep fighting for more.”
But before they head back to the world cup, both women plan on racing in the 30-kilometer mass start freestyle race on Sunday.
Ben Ogden and JC Schoonmaker look on during the men's cross-country team sprint classic final at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 16, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.
In the men’s classic team sprint, young guns Ben Ogden and JC Schoonmaker finished ninth but were happy with their first attempt at the event, especially on the Olympic stage.
Led by 2022 Olympic sprint gold medalist Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, Norway won the men’s team sprint gold medal in 19:22.99. Coming into the stadium, Klaebo surged ahead of Finland and Russian Olympic Committee to claim the gold. Finland took silver (19:25.45) and ROC bronze (19:27.28).
Schoonmaker crossed the finish line about a minute off Klaebo. It was the first time he and Odgen had paired for a team sprint. Ogden was suffering from food poisoning during the season’s one and only team sprint in January.
Despite their lack of experience in the team sprint, the two young Americans stayed with the leaders in their semifinal heat — even after Ogden broke a pole.
“That was one of many moments where we used some extra energy out there that we didn't need to,” he said. “But live and learn.”
Still in their early 20s (Ogden turned 22 this week, Schoonmaker is 21), the two are looking forward to more team sprints down the road.
“A little more training under our belts, a little more endurance, and a little more experience will definitely be a big game changer,” said Schoonmaker.
From their first Olympic Games, the two are heading back to college — Ogden to the University of Vermont, Schoonmaker to the University of Alaska-Anchorage. They plan to compete in their respective regional championships, then at NCAAs in March. Both men are seniors graduating in the spring.
Like their female teammates, the U.S. men have also benefitted from teamwork. Ogden and Schoonmaker had planned to wear “crazy stuff,” like rub-on tattoos, for team spirit in the race tonight.
“But we honestly forgot,” said Ogden.
“We had to run to the bus,” added Schoonmaker, with a laugh. “The curse of the relay socks. We would have been on the podium had we worn them!”