It was a historic day for U.S. Cross Country Skiing. Jessie Diggins and Caitlin Gregg finished second and third respectively in the women’s World Championships 10 kilometer skate race. As coach Jason Cork said, “it is unbelievable in the best possible way.” It it probably the most successful day in U.S. Cross Country Skiing history.
Two weeks ago Caitlin was debating whether she should come to the World Championships at all. Neither Caitlin nor Jessie has ever been on a World Cup podium in an individual race. I am incredibly happy for them and speechless about their accomplishments.
Weather played a big factor in today’s race, and our service team absolutely killed it. Indisputably, we had the best skis in the race. Our service staff deserves more credit than they can possibly get. Today’s race will make the season for the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team.
It was an advantage to start early because it started snowing hard soon after the start of the race. We had the good fortune of having Caitlin start third and Kikkan start fourth. Kikkan skied to an excellent 15th place finish, though I know that with the way the weather went and the way she felt, she was disappointed with her result. Luck was on our side, especially for Caitlin, when it came to the starting order, but remember, there were lots of other ladies that started early and Caitlin skied better than all of them. Also, it seems like too many times luck is working against our team. It feels good to be on the right side for a change.
Jessie started much later than Caitlin with the 37th bib and had to battle through the snow storm for her entire race. There’s nothing to it except that she skied incredibly well and our service team produced skis that were great in the freshly falling snow, unlike some of the big ski nations like Norway and Germany.
The fourth American in the race, Liz Stephen, also deserves a huge congratulations for a great race. Liz did not have the advantage of an early start position. She started 53rd out of 71 ladies, yet she battled to a 10th place finish. Four American’s in the top 15! It truly is unbelievable.
Today’s race is a little reminiscent of the men’s 15 kilometer skate race at the World Championships in Sapporo, Japan in 2007. In that race, a snow storm moved in as the highest seeds were starting and the conditions got much slower. Belarusian Leanid Karneyenka was the third athlete to start and ended up finishing in 2nd place. To give you an idea of how much of an underdog Karneyenka was, the 2nd place finish was his best result in any FIS race ever. His next best finish during his career in a distance race at the World Championship, World Cup or Olympic level was 51st place.
The Norwegian team had particularly bad skis in the falling snow today. Their top finisher was Heidi Weng in 22nd place. Six time Olympic Champion Marit Bjørgen finished in 31st place, 2 minutes and 24 seconds behind winner Charlotte Kalla from Sweden. The last time Bjørgen finished a race outside of the top 30 was 2009, when she had two finishes lower than 30th. Other than those two finishes, she hadn’t finished outside the top 30 since 2003.
This morning, it didn’t look like we were going to see crazy weather today.