Jessie Diggins is first U.S. cross-country skier to win individual world title


As Jessie Diggins skied to the first individual world title in U.S. cross-country skiing history on Tuesday, she noticed all of the American wax technicians dart out to the course to cheer for her. There were so many that she didn’t recognize at least one of the voices.

“I remember at one point thinking, I don’t even know who that was,” Diggins, who did interview after interview in tears of joy afterward, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK. “They were just going crazy, and it was just such a good feeling. When you’re in really good shape, it still hurts, but you feel like you can just push so hard.”

In her trademark style, Diggins skied an all-guts race for 23 minutes, 40 seconds to win the world championships 10km freestyle in Planica, Slovenia. She prevailed by 14 seconds over Swede Frida Karlsson. Another Swede, Ebba Andersson, took bronze in an event where skiers went out at 30-second intervals, making it an individual test against the clock.

Diggins, two days after dragging Norwegian and Sweden skiers behind her in the team sprint, where she earned bronze with Julia Kern, began her 10km one minute after Karlsson, who took silver at the last worlds in 2021.

Within the first four minutes, Diggins had opened up a three-second lead on Karlsson. Diggins held a similar lead at each split through 7.7 kilometers, keeping it suspenseful. But in the final six minutes, she put the hammer down, leaving no doubt as she skied to the finish and collapsed onto the snow, gasping for breath right next to Karlsson.

“I couldn’t stop crying after the race,” said Diggins, who over 6.25 miles climbed 1,263 feet, roughly the height of the Empire State Building. “I was like, ‘I can’t even enjoy this because I can’t even see. I’m crying the whole time.’ But it was so special.”

U.S. cross-country skiers previously won 13 Olympic or world championships medals dating to 1976, but Tuesday marked the first gold medal in an individual event.

Diggins, already the U.S. cross-country skiing record holder for Olympic medals (one of every color), world championships medals (now six) and individual World Cup wins (14), added another feather to her cap.

“It’s wonderful to have a monkey off your back, even for an athlete as decorated as Jessie,” U.S. coach Matt Whitcomb told NRK. “She probably couldn’t tell you all the stats about herself. All she can tell you is that you give her a course like this, and she knows she can at least be tied for the lead with regards to going the hardest. That’s really the attribute of Jessie that’s most admirable. She can just go out there and suffer.”

It was historic. It was also emotional.

Diggins attributed the tears not only to the team effort of wax techs, coaches, physios, nutritionists and massage therapists. But also because she has been away from home, and largely away from her newlywed husband, all season.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love to do what I do because it’s not easy,” she said.

Diggins called this a season of ups and downs. In December, she tied and broke retired Olympic champion teammate Kikkan Randall‘s U.S. record for World Cup wins.

But before the World Cup circuit began, teammates woke to find her curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor in November. Diggins believed she caught a 24-hour flu bug after traveling to Europe.

Then at the Tour de Ski, a Tour de France-like stage race that wraps around New Year’s, she had finishes of 40th, 30th and 40th. Scandinavian media recommended she withdraw from the Tour, which she won in 2021.

Diggins kept racing, skiing the fastest time in a pursuit and then capping the Tour with a fifth-place result in the grueling final stage, a 10km climb up Alpe Cermis in Italy.

“I knew I was in good shape, especially because of [the pursuit],” Diggins said Tuesday. “But, to be honest, we struggled with the wax on my skis, and you have to have everything to have a competitive race. That’s why when we win, we win as a team.”

Diggins continued building with three podiums in her last five individual races before worlds, then an impressive display in Sunday’s team sprint.

Next, she bids for more history, looking to help the U.S. to its first medal in a relay on Thursday. Diggins was part of U.S. relays that finished fourth or fifth at each of the last five world championships.

Tuesday “might have been” the perfect race, she said.

“All the pieces came together — your body and your brain and your pacing and your technique and the skis and the weather,” she said. “That was very special.”

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Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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