Sadie Bjornsen and Jessie Diggins take bronze at the World Championships in Lahti. (Getty Images-Richard Heathcote)
LAHTI, Finland (Feb. 26, 2017) - Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) and Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) skied to bronze Sunday in the classic team sprint at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti. It was the first classic technique medal for the USA since the two disciplines were established. Norway took gold with Russia winning silver.
It was the third medal of the World Championships for the USA - the most ever. It also marked a fourth career medal for Diggins, also a U.S. record. It was the debut World Championship medal for Bjornsen, who brought great classic skiing strength to the team as the lead-off skier.
Sadie Bjornsen and Jessie Diggins embrace in the finish. (Getty Images/AFP-Christof Stache)
On the men’s side, Sadie's brother Erik Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) and Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) paired up to record the best U.S. men’s team sprint finish in World Championships history, coming in fifth.
Russia took gold over Italy and Finland. The finish had high drama when Iivo Niskanen of Finland collided with Norway’s Emil Iversen just over 100 meters to the finish, causing a crash that took Norway out of medal contention.
The American women served notice in the semifinals that they were there to win a medal. Going up against Sweden, Russia and Germany in the second heat, Sadie Bjornsen led off and immediately mixed it up for the lead. Through their three legs, both Bjornsen and Diggins stayed near the front. At the midway point of the final leg, Diggins found herself in fifth. She moved up into fourth coming into the stadium then to third. With no chance to catch the leaders, Diggins needed to hope for a lucky loser spot - double poling frantically to gain the the spot in the finals.
In the finals, it was much of the same. Bjornsen skied strong, showing experience and confidence. Diggins skied crafty legs, staying back from the lead but maintaining contact with the leaders but all the time scoping out what would be her last lap opportunities.
"I wanted to learn who was struggling and who had faster or slower skis," said Diggins.
But on the final leg, Diggins put that knowledge to work, positioning herself for a move coming into the finish. Coming off Indian Hill and down into the fabled Lahti Corner, Diggins was in fourth with Stina Nilsson of Sweden in the bronze medal position. Diggins let Nilsson lead down the final hill before she went for the pass on the final 180-degree turn. Then it was a horse race to the finish with Diggins clearly out double poling the Sweden and claiming the bronze with a well-timed lunge at the finish line."
"In the final, I moved out into the herringbone lane out of the tracks early on so I could get around a couple of people," said Diggins. "I was trying to stick right on Stina (Nilsson) and she had a little bit of a gap at the top of the hill. I was double poling like a maniac and I was like, you know what, downhills are a strength and our skis are really fast—I have a lot of confidence in our techs and I knew our skis are great. I skied the downhill the best I knew how and was able to draft her and get into my own lane with the best line—I took the inside lane so I knew I would be able to pick my track going into the final 100 meters. Then I just double poled my heart out."
Bjornsen was calm, cool and collected. On the second lap of the finals, the pace picked up but she stayed right with the leaders. On her final leg, she took an inside track up the first hill - pushing the fresh, new snow. "By the time I made the turn to do the herringbone hill, I was pretty tired," said Bjornsen. "But I just knew I needed to get up that hill in a place where I could re-catch those leaders because the double pole section right after that was somewhere I could catch up to people. We got to the top, closed the gap and came down into the stadium with that group and handed off to Jessie with every last bit of effort in a place where she could fight for the medal still."
While Bjornsen is a proven classic skier, Diggins is just showing her skills in the technique. The pairing worked well. And it was not lost on the athletes what they had accomplished. "it just slowly dawned on me—we got a medal in a classic team sprint and that is so cool," said Diggins. "We’ve been working towards it for a long time—targeting this race for a long time and thinking about it and planning and visualizing it. I’m just so proud of this team."
The classic sprint will air Sunday evening as a part of Universal HD's same day coverage from 9:30 p.m. - 12:30 a.m. EST.
Monday is an off day with the women's 10k classic on Tuesday.
Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) and Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) skied to bronze in the classic team sprint event.
It was the first U.S. medal in classic technique skiing in the modern era.
The medal was the fourth of Diggins’ career, a U.S. record. It was also the third U.S. medal of the World Championships, the first time ever the USA has won medals in two events at World Championships.
It was Bjornsen's first World Championship medal.
Jessie Diggins Going into the final, I was really, really excited. I have so much faith in Sadie and believe in her classic. I was really nervous of course, but I knew those nerves were there because we had a chance to do something huge. We’ve just been working so hard on our classic skiing. I’ve never been considered a classic skier and so I was like, I gotta to change that and learn how to ski like Sadie and stride and glide with some power and force.
When we went out. I took out the first lap a little more conservatively—skiing really smooth and powerful and staying in a good position. There was a little bit of chaos on that first uphill. One of the Swiss girls moved over on top of me and broke her pole. But I kept thinking, ‘focus, just focus, keep going, don’t worry about it, focus on your own race.’ The tag zones were also a little bit of chaos because they’re so narrow and so many people coming in. Sadie would come in and I would be screaming and waving at Sadie. We found each other every time and that was great.
In the second lap, the pace started to pick up, people were stringing out and I just tried to maintain contact while conserving as much as I possibly could. I was taking note of where people were making moves and a lot of people were making moves on the herringbone hill which I knew wasn’t my own personal strength. So I was thinking to myself, if that’s where people are going to go, if you can keep contact, you can take them on the downhill.
In the final, I moved out into the herringbone lane out of the tracks early on so I could get around a couple of people. I was trying to stick right on Stina (Nilsson) and she had a little bit of a gap at the top of the hill. I was double poling like a maniac and I was like, you know what, downhills are a strength and our skis are really fast—I have a lot of confidence in our techs and I knew our skis are great. I skied the downhill the best I knew how and was able to draft her and get into my own lane with the best line—I took the inside lane so I knew I would be able to pick my track going into the final 100 meters. Then I just double poled my heart out.
In my head, I kept thinking, ‘you can, you can, you can because Sadie needs you!’ That team belief brings out the best in my performance every time. So I just double poled like my life depended on it—threw my foot out at the last minute for the lane and then all I was thinking was that Sadie has to hold me up because I’m going to die. Sadie caught me and that was such a cool moment. It didn’t sink in for a bit that we had done it. Then it just slowly dawned on me—we got a medal in a classic team sprint and that is so cool. We’ve been working towards it for a long time—targeting this race for a long time and thinking about it and planning and visualizing it. I’m just so proud of this team.
Sadie Bjornsen For the semifinals, I was just thinking about being in the front of the group, but also conserving some energy for the finals. The semifinals was all pretty clean—we stayed in front of the group and qualified in the lucky loser position which was plenty OK. Once we got to the finals, the first lap, I was just trying to stay near the front of the group because I knew that the exchange would be better for Jessie and it’s just easier to ski from the front. I just tried to position myself there.
On our second lap, the pace really took a notch up. I was just trying to stay with the leaders when they made a move and stay in the front. On the final lap, we exchanged with a lot of people. I took the inside lane up the hill trying to get my own track to maybe get towards the front, which was a little bit challenging because I was sort of grooming own trail. It was quite slow. By the time I made the turn to do the herringbone hill, I was pretty tired. But I just knew I needed to get up that herringbone hill in a place where I could re-catch those leaders because the double pole section right after that was somewhere I could catch up to people. We got to the top, closed the gap and came down into the stadium with that group and handed off to Jessie with every last bit of effort in a place where she could fight for the medal still.
Erik Bjornsen This is my second team sprint since Sochi where Simi and I went sixth. I haven’t done a lot recently so I was psyched. Once we got to the finals and we lined up against all the best countries in the world - you could tell it was going to be a hard one. We’re psyched to be fifth.
Simi Hamilton It was incredible – not only the atmosphere with 30,000 people here in Lahti but the field is stacked. It’s an opportunity for every country to win a medal. There’s no slacking out there – you have to put it on the line. There was an amazing intensity in the final. It was a fight the whole time.
It’s awesome for our men’s program – sign of things to come. Erik is leading the next generation coming up. I’m so proud of him – he really threw down.
Chris Grover, Head Coach We knew that we had an outside chance in team sprint. We’ve worked the last few years really hard working on classic skiing. Part of our strategy has been to improve classic. We knew if we put together the right combination of skiers, with the right wax, that there would be an outside chance at a medal. This was not our number one or two event, but probably number three.
Sadie had to sacrifice by not starting in the skiathlon to start here today. We knew that with three races in five days she would have to have something in the tank.
It was a tough choice to setup the men’s team. We had Andy Newell who was prepared and ready to go. But in the end we felt that the course demands really lent themselves to Simi and Erik and they did a fantastic job.