Who is... Jessie Diggins?
Team USA’s Jessie Diggins wears her “bubbly and optimistic” personality on her sleeve. According to Diggins, she races best when she’s “smiling and having fun.” In stark contrast, Diggins is often seen collapsing to the snow at the end of her best races, physically spent from wringing every last drop of will from her body. For Diggins, the agony is necessary to avoid her biggest fear – having energy to spare at the finish line.
Jessie Diggins put in her first hours on cross-country trails as a toddler riding in a kid-carrier backpack. Hoisted onto her father’s back, little Jessie loved to go fast, often yelling “Mush!” to make him go faster, while she tugged at his hair. Once she was able to walk, Diggins was given her own skis and weekends on snow became the family pastime near her home in Afton, Minnesota.
At 19, Diggins won a U.S. National title in the sprint event held in Rumford, Maine, which qualified her for her first taste of elite international competition. In the span of four days she raced in her first World Cup and first World Championships both in Norway. Racing in the sprint on the World Cup in Drammen, Norway had an impact on Diggins, despite coming in 46th place.
“I totally got my ass kicked, but I was so excited to be racing in Norway, the birthplace of cross-country skiing,” Diggins remembers.
Two years later, Diggins would have a breakthrough like no other U.S. cross-country skier had before her. Racing in her second World Championships in 2013, Diggins was paired with Kikkan Randall – the United States' most-decorated cross-country skier – in the team sprint. The duo won world championship team sprint gold, becoming the first U.S. cross-country skiers to do so in history.
In addition to her 2013 World Championship title with Randall, Diggins has won three addition Worlds medals. In 2015 she won her first individual medal, a silver, in the 10km freestyle event. In 2017, Diggins won two medals at world championships, an individual silver in the sprint and a bronze in the team sprint with her partner Sadie Bjornsen.
Diggins says she keeps her four World Championship medals at her home in her sock drawer.
“I never look at them because I'm motivated not by the actual medal but by the pursuit of excellence and striving to be better and better,” Diggins admits.
On the World Cup, Diggins has made it onto individual event podiums eight times.
Before races, Diggins often likes to add a healthy sheen of glitter to her cheeks, to add some fun, something she has started to share with her fellow U.S. teammates. The pre-race ritual has led to her being known as the team "glitter fairy" as she will give a swipe of sparkle to the men and women of Team USA before races. It's a title which is juxtaposed to an old cross-country skiing stereotype she would like to end.
"We are not just spandex-wearing fairies gliding through the woods! Our sport can have some brutal crashes in the head-to-head sprint races or mass starts, and it's aerobically the hardest sport there is."
Jessie Diggins made her Olympic debut in 2014 in Sochi. Her two best finishes came in the Skiathlon and women’s relay. Diggins tied the second best Olympic finish by a U.S. cross-country skier when she came in eighth in the Skiathlon.
Diggins closed out her first Olympics Games by skiing the anchor leg of the women’s 4x5km relay helping the U.S. finish in ninth – the best Olympic finish for a U.S. women’s cross-country relay team.
On off-days, as a warm-up before strength training or even alone, Diggins loves to dance. She enjoys combing YouTube looking for new moves to learn, then passes her knowledge on to her U.S. cross-country teammates, serving in her other unofficial duty as the team’s choreographer.
With more than 90,000 views, a YouTube video titled “Uptown Funk-US Ski Team Style,” is just one example of Diggins’ ability to get everyone from Kikkan Randall, Sophie Caldwell, Sadie Bjornsen, Simi Hamilton and Andy Newell out on the floor, or in this case, on location and into the groove.