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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Ilia Malinin eyed new heights at figure skating worlds, but a jump to gold requires more


At 18 years old, Ilia Malinin already has reached immortality in figure skating for technical achievement, being the first to land a quadruple Axel jump in competition.

The self-styled “Quadg0d” already has shown the chutzpah (or hubris?) to go for the most technically difficult free skate program ever attempted at the world championships, including that quad Axel, the hardest jump anyone has tried.

It helped bring U.S. champion Malinin the world bronze medal Saturday in Saitama, Japan, where he made more history as the first to land the quad Axel at worlds.

But it already had him thinking that the way to reach the tops of both the worlds and Olympus might be to acknowledge his mortal limits.

Yes, if Malinin (288.44 points) had cleanly landed all six quads he did instead of going clean on just three of the six, it would have closed or even overcome the gap between him and repeat champion Shoma Uno of Japan (301.14) and surprise silver medalist Cha Jun-Hwan (296.03), the first South Korean man to win a world medal.

That’s a big if, as no one ever has done six clean quads in a free skate.

And the energy needed for those quads, physical and mental, hurts Malinin’s chances of closing another big gap with the world leaders: the difference in their “artistic” marks, known as component scores.

Malinin’s technical scores led the field in both the short program and free skate. But his component scores were lower than at last year’s worlds, when he finished ninth, and they ranked 10th in the short program and 11th in the free this time. Uno had an 18.44-point overall advantage over Malinin in PCS, Cha a 13.47 advantage.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Chock, Bates, and a long road to gold | Results

As usual in figure skating, some of the PCS difference owes to the idea of paying your dues. After all, at his first world championships, eventual Olympic champion Nathan Chen had PCS scores only slightly better than Malinin’s, and Chen’s numbers improved substantially by the next season.

But credit Malinin for quickly grasping the reality that his current skating has a lot of rough edges on the performance side.

“I’ve noticed that it’s really hard to go for a lot of risks,” he said in answer to a press conference question about what he had learned from this competition. “Sometimes going for the risks you get really good rewards, but I think that maybe sometimes it’s OK to lower the risks and go for a lot cleaner skate. I think it will be beneficial next season to lower the standards a bit.”

So could it be “been-there, done-that” with the quad Axel? (and the talk of quints and quad-quad combinations?)

Saturday’s was his fourth clean quad Axel in seven attempts this season, but it got substantially the lowest grade of execution (0.36) of the four with positive marks. It was his opening jump in the four-minute free, and, after a stopped-in-your tracks landing, his next two quads, flip and Lutz, were both badly flawed.

And there were still some three minutes to go.

Malinin did not directly answer about letting the quad Axel go now that he has definitively proved he can do it. What he did say could be seen as hinting at it.

“With the whole components factor … it’s probably because you know, after doing a lot of these jumps, (which) are difficult jumps, it’s really hard to try to perform for the audience,” he said.

“Even though some people might enjoy jumping, and it’s one of the things I enjoy, but I also like to perform to the audience. So I think next season, I would really want to focus on this performing side.”

Chen had told me essentially the same thing for a 2017 Ice Network story (reposted last year by about his several years of ballet training. He regretted not being able to show that training more because of the program-consuming athletic demands that come with being an elite figure skater.

“When I watch my skating when I was younger, I definitely see all this balletic movement and this artistry come through,” Chen said then. “When I watch my artistry now, it’s like, ‘Yes, it’s still there,’ but at the same time, I’m so focused on the jumps, it takes away from it.”

The artistry can still be developed and displayed, as Chen showed and as prolific and proficient quad jumpers like Uno and the now retired two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan have proved.

For another perspective on how hard it is to combine both, look at the difficulty it posed for the consummate performer, Jason Brown, who had the highest PCS scores while finishing a strong fifth (280.84).

Since Brown dropped his Sisyphean attempts to do a clean quad after 26 tries (20 in a free skate), the last at the 2022 U.S. Championships, he has received the two highest international free skate scores of his career, at the 2022 Olympics and this world meet.

It meant Brown’s coming to terms with his limitations and the fact that in the sport’s current iteration, his lack of quads gives him little chance of winning a global championship medal. What he did instead was give people the chance to see the beauty of his blade work, his striking movement, his expressiveness.

He has, at 28, become an audience favorite more than ever. And the judges Saturday gave Brown six maximum PCS scores (10.0.)

“I’m so happy about today’s performance,” Brown told media in the mixed zone. “I did my best to go out there and skate my skate. And that’s what I did.”

The quadg0d is realizing that he, too, must accept limitations if he wants to achieve his goals. Ilia Malinin can’t simply jump his way onto the highest steps of the most prized podiums.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to

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Shoma Uno repeats as world figure skating champion; Ilia Malinin tries 6 quads for bronze


Japan’s Shoma Uno repeated as world figure skating champion, performing the total package of jumps and artistry immediately after 18-year-old American Ilia Malinin attempted a record-tying six quadruple jumps in his free skate to earn the bronze medal.

Uno, 25 and the leader after Thursday’s short program, prevailed with five quad attempts (one under-rotated) in Saturday’s free skate.

He finished, fell backward and lay on home ice in Saitama, soaking in a standing ovation amid a sea of Japanese flags. Japan won three of the four gold medals this week, and Uno capped it off with guts coming off a reported ankle injury.

He is the face of Japanese men’s skating after two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu retired in July and Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama missed most of this season with leg and ankle injuries.

“There were many shaky jumps today, but I’m happy I was able to get a good result despite not being in a good condition these past two weeks,” Uno said, according to the International Skating Union (ISU). “I know I caused a lot of concerns to everyone around me, but I was able to pay them back and show my gratitude with my performance today.”

Silver medalist Cha Jun-Hwan became the first South Korean man to win a world championships medal. Cha, a 21-year-old who was fifth at the Olympics, had to change out broken skate boots before traveling to Japan, one year after withdrawing from worlds after a 17th-place short program, citing a broken skate boot.


Malinin, ninth in his senior worlds debut last year, planned the most difficult program of jumps in figure skating history — six quads, including a quad Axel. Malinin is the only person to land a quad Axel in competition and did so again Saturday. He still finished 12.7 points behind Uno and 7.59 behind Cha.

Malinin had the top technical score (jumps, spins, step sequences) in both programs, despite an under-rotation and two other negatively graded jumps among his seven jumping passes in the free skate.

His nemesis was the artistic score, placing 10th and 11th in that category in the two programs (18.44 points behind Uno). Unsurprising for the only teen in the top 13, who is still working on that facet of his skating, much like a young Nathan Chen several years ago.

“After doing a lot of these jumps — hard, difficult jumps — it’s really hard to try to perform for the audience,” said Malinin, who entered worlds ranked second in the field by best score this season behind Uno.

Chen, who is unlikely to compete again after winning last year’s Olympics, remains the lone skater to land six fully rotated quads in one program (though not all clean). Malinin became the youngest U.S. male singles skater to win a world medal since Scott Allen in 1965. He was proud of his performance, upping the ante after previously trying five quads in free skates this season, but afterward weighed whether the risk was worth it.

“Sometimes going for the risk, you get really good rewards, but I think that maybe sometimes it’s OK to lower the risks and try not to take as much risk and go for a lot cleaner skate,” he said. “I think that’ll be beneficial to do next season is to lower the standards a bit.”

Malinin was followed by Frenchman Kévin Aymoz, who before the pandemic was the world’s third-ranked skater behind Chen and Yuzuru Hanyu, then placed ninth, 11th and 12th at the last three global championships.

Jason Brown, a two-time U.S. Olympian, was fifth in his first international competition since last year’s Olympics. He was the lone man in the top 15 to not attempt a quad, a testament to his incredible artistic skills for which he received the most points between the two programs.

“I didn’t think at the beginning of the year that I even would be competing this year, so I’m really touched to be here,” the 28-year-old said, according to the ISU. “I still want to keep going [competing] a little longer, but we’ll see. I won’t do promises.”

Earlier Saturday, Madison Chock and Evan Bates became the oldest couple to win an ice dance world title and the second set of Americans to do so. More on that here.

World championships highlights air Saturday from 8-10 p.m. ET on NBC, and the NBC Sports app.

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