Jessie Diggins skis into world championships on historic roll, wearing powerful message

Jessie Diggins
Getty Images

Jessie Diggins calls it the cross-country skiing season of her wildest dreams. It’s not over yet.

Diggins, who in 2018 teamed with the since-retired Kikkan Randall to win the U.S.’ first Olympic cross-country skiing title, is likely to make more history over the next month.

It could come at the world championships — which start Thursday (TV schedule here) — where she has a chance to become the first American to win an individual gold medal. It will probably happen by the end of the World Cup season later in March.

Diggins holds a 342-point lead in the standings for the World Cup overall title, awarded based on results across all events for the entire season. World championships results don’t count toward the World Cup overall.

There are a handful of World Cup races left after the world championships. The scale is 100 points for a victory, and descending from there. Do the math with Diggins’ lead, and you get an idea of her chances to become the second American ever to take that crown after Bill Koch in 1982.

“It’s always been a big dream of mine to be able to show up ready to play, no matter what it is: distance, sprint, classic [style], skate [style], skiathlon,” Diggins, 29, said last week. “Whatever it is, I want to show up and be ready to give it my best fight. I’m finally getting to that place in my career.”

Rewind to PyeongChang. Diggins, though she won the last World Cup before the Winter Games and ultimately finished second in the overall that season, said recently that she went into her individual events at her second Olympics as a “long-shot hope.” Koch is the only U.S. cross-country skier to earn an individual Olympic medal, back in 1976.

Before that golden team sprint, Diggins finished fifth, fifth and sixth individually in PyeongChang. She missed a medal by 3.3 seconds in her best individual event, the 10km freestyle (which is on the world championships and Olympic program every other edition, including next week but not in 2022).

“Coming so close individually so many times was eye-opening,” she said. “When you’re right there, you know you can make it happen. You know it’s possible. You’ve seen it. It’s five seconds ahead of you.”

ON HER TURF: Diggins on body image education, why sports journalism needs more women

Exactly four months after her last Olympic race, Diggins published what she called “the most important blog I’ll ever write” on her website, titled “Body Issue(s).”

Diggins, after appearing in ESPN the Magazine‘s “Body Issue,” decided to publicly share her experience with disordered eating as a teenager. She hoped to open a conversation about body image.

Ever since, Diggins has raced with a badge across her headband reading “The Emily Program,” a national leader in eating disorder treatment. Diggins, in her high school graduation year of 2010, did what she called the scariest thing in the world, calling the program to get treatment that saved her life.

She wears the headband to remind viewers that it’s OK to have a vulnerable side. It’s OK to ask for help. Her fear is that a young athlete might misattribute her success in the sport to the eating disorder. In reality, she was still in recovery at the time of the PyeongChang Games.

“The only reason I even made it to that Olympics at all was because of The Emily Program and because of my recovery, and because of my support team, and my family, and the amazing teammates around me, and coaches who said we accept you for who you are,” she told NBC Sports before this season.

The Emily Program patch was there when Diggins won three World Cup races, among eight podiums, so far this winter. And most memorably, when she collapsed in exhaustion after the final climb up Alpe Cermis to become the first American to win the Tour de Ski, a Tour de France-like stage race.

“It gave me a lot of confidence in that I felt like I could perform under pressure,” she said of winning the Tour.

The patch was there when, three weeks later in Falun, Sweden, Diggins did something arguably more impressive: hand Norwegian queen Therese Johaug her first straight up defeat in an international distance freestyle race in nearly five years. (Johaug, and the rest of the dominant Norwegians, skipped early season World Cups and the Tour de Ski for coronavirus safety reasons.)

“In the world of skiing, the win at the Tour de Ski followed up very quickly by that win in Falun, it changed the profile of her season for sure, from it being an asterisk season,” said NBC Sports analyst Chad Salmela, who voiced the famous “Here comes Diggins!” call in PyeongChang. “There’s no real asterisk there because she beat Johaug in what Johaug can win at or should win at.”

Johaug is at worlds in Oberstdorf, Germany, where the course suits her better than in Falun. Competition starts with sprints on Thursday.

For Diggins, the team sprint on Sunday and relay on March 4 are special. “If you put my teammates’ goals and hopes and dreams on the line, suddenly I have so much confidence,” she said.

Individually, the key is the 10km freestyle next Tuesday.

Diggins took silver in the event the last time it was contested at worlds in 2015. Johaug missed the next major 10km free at the 2018 Olympics due to a doping ban over lip cream.

“I won’t be surprised if Jessie beats [Johaug], but it will be an upset for sure,” Salmela said.

Diggins’ first skiing experiences came while tucked into her father’s backpack on longer treks in their native Minnesota. She would pull on his hair and yell, “Mush!” because she loved to glide fast. Early on her own skis, Diggins staggered around the Afton Alps and recalled crashing nearly every race in one season.

So team-oriented, she once left an international junior competition before the closing ceremony to make it back to Minnesota for a regional event for her high school. So outgoing, her longtime coach said she took an extrovert test and recorded the maximum score of 25.

“I wouldn’t have been surprised if she actually had 26,” said Jason Cork, who has worked with Diggins since 2010.

This season, she has achieved individual success like never before — in sprints and distance races and in both types of skiing — classic and freestyle (or skate).

“I know that when I cross the finish line, there’s going to be nothing left,” she said. “I feel good about that.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

U.S. women’s basketball team scores most points in FIBA World Cup history

Brionna Jones

SYDNEY — A’ja Wilson and the U.S. put on quite a show, breaking the World Cup scoring mark in a record rout of South Korea.

Brionna Jones scored 24 points and Wilson added 20 to help the U.S. beat South Korea 145-69 on Monday. Shakira Austin’s layup with 9 seconds left helped the Americans break Brazil’s record of 143 points set in 1990.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a team that can score the basketball like this,” Wilson said. “This is crazy, we put up 145 points. I think when you look at us and just knowing how talented we are, we just came together and we play together very, very well.”

The U.S. always has the most talented and deepest roster of any team in the World Cup with 12 WNBA stars on the roster. Still, the Americans had never come close to that sort of offensive output during it’s storied World Cup history. The previous team record was 119 points against Angola in 2014 and China in 2006. The scoring margin was also the biggest in U.S. history as well surpassing the 75-point win over Angola in 2014.

The win was also the 26th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals when they fell to Russia. The U.S. also won 26 in a row from 1994-2006. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-1986.

MORE: FIBA World Cup Results

What started with Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles has now been passed on to Breanna Stewart and Wilson. A legacy of excellence that doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon.

The U.S. (4-0), which has been playing stellar defense, was challenged by South Korea early. The teams were trading baskets for the first 8 minutes and it was tied at 21 before the Americans took control, scoring the final 11 points of the period.

Kahleah Copper came off the bench for the first time of the tournament and scored six points during that spurt. The Americans kept the streak going to start the second quarter, scoring nine of the first 11 points to put the game away.

By the time the game reached the half the U.S. was up 68-40, including scoring 44 points in the paint against the undersized Koreans.

“We were trying to get the ball inside,” Jones said. “We had an advantage there.”

The only suspense in the second half was how many records the Americans could break. They took down their own scoring mark on Sabrina Ionescu’s 3-pointer with 6:15 left in the game and kept putting up points with Austin’s layup capping off the contest.

Other records broken on Monday included the 62 field goals made, 36 assists and 94 points in the paint.

“Our size was a problem for them and I thought we shared the ball,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said.

The Americans were well rested for the game after having their first day off of the tournament on Sunday.

Despite the rout, South Korea (1-3) can still advance to the quarterfinals with a win over Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

Leeseul Kang, who had 37 points in a win over Bosnia and Herzegovina, scored 10 points. Hyejin Park had 17 to lead the team.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup

The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final