American Jessie Diggins (bib 1) comes across the line behind winner Justyna Kowalczyk as other skiers collapse in exhaustion in the Moscow sprint. (Getty Images/AFP-Alexander Nemenov)
MOSCOW (Feb. 2) – On a day that saw three American women square off in the semifinals, young Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) led the USA with a career best sixth in zero temperatures in the Moscow sprints. FIS World Cup sprint leader Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) was seventh, failing to make finals in a close semifinal finish. Ida Sargent (Orleans, VT) had a career best 12th. Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland won for the women with Sweden's Teodor Peterson taking the men’s title.
Jessie Diggins, Kikkan Randall and Ida Sargent combined for an historic finish for the USA – first time three Americans had made semifinals.
Diggins led qualifying by a huge 2.47 second margin, taking second by a photo finish in the quarters and winning her semifinal heat over teammates Randall and Sargent.
In the finals, Diggins held her own in podium position through most of the race before giving ground in the finishing stretch. It was only her fourth World Cup individual sprint and only second time she had qualified for the heats.
Randall, who had been sick earlier in the week, skied well and was second in her quarterfinal heat. She and Diggins had set the pace in the semis before Russian Natalia Korosteleva caught her for second right at the finish line.
Randall slightly extended her World Cup sprint lead over Natalia Matveeva, who went out in the quarterfinals, now with more than a 100 point margin. Randall remained fourth in the World Cup overall.
Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) qualified 16th but went out in the quarterfinals and finished 22nd.
Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) missed qualifying by one spot in 31st.
The World Cup now heads for Rybinsk this weekend.
QUOTES Jessie Diggins I had no idea - no idea on where I stood (in qualifications). The course was really long and hard – it was cold and with new snow skied a lot longer. There were two pretty steep but short bridges. You had to be ready to change up your pace. Our wax techs did such a good job – our skis were awesome. You had to pace it a little bit so you didn’t blow up for the wax bridge.
After Milan I realized that if you’re really aggressive it’s easy to fall. I wanted to stay out of trouble. So I skied out front. It might not have been the smartest thing to do as I was out of energy for the finals. But I had no idea I was going to make it.
In the semifinals, it was really cool to have the U.S. be 1-2-3 for so long.
By the finishing stretch in the final heat, the last couple hundred meters I felt like I had jelly legs. I kept going as hard as I could.
We didn’t put together any team tactics because you really don’t know what’s going to happen, so we didn’t want to come up with a crazy plan. It was cool to watch and learn from what Kikkan does and talk to Chandra (Canadian Chandra Crawford). It was really neat to have such good examples being set and figuring it out.
Kikkan Randall I had stomach flu earlier in the week and wasn’t sure how I would do. But I was happy with the qualifier.
In the quarterfinal I had a good start but with the wind I didn’t want to lead so much. A couple Russians went into the lead. And with 200 meters to go I didn’t have quite the pop I had thought.
In the semis I couldn’t find a place to tuck in so went off to the side. There were three of us up front going into the final bridge and there wasn’t quite the room. When you’re on that final stretch, the wind is blowing. I knew it was close and I knew someone was coming. It was a bummer to miss out on the finals by a tenth.
I’m happy to still be in the red jersey – it’s been quite an honor to wear it for so many weekends. (Poland’s Justyna) Kowalczyk has been sneaking up and will be someone to contend with in the final stretch of the season. I hope I can get back to my top race form. We have one skate and three classic sprints now to the end of the season.
Ida Sargent It’s definitely a really big confidence booster for me. If I could have picked my least favorite type of sprint course, this was it. I like hillier and faster courses. But you take what you get. If I can do it in these conditions, it can be even better on a course I like.
It was really awesome being in the same heat, but at the same time it would have been nice to have not all been in the semifinals. I wanted to stay near the front and conserve energy for the final stretch. It was hard to pass with the short little bumps they had and the windblown snow outside of the main track.
Jessie and Kikkan were in the front and I was just behind them. I was feeling really good and felt we were all in a good position, conserving energy. But coming over the top of the last bump I touched skis with someone, lost my momentum and didn’t have much left for the final sprint – not as snappy as the earlier heat.
It was actually a bit warmer today (still zero Fahrenheit). I just wore lots and lots of layers, wool long underwear and a breathing mask to warm up.
Chris Grover, Cross Country Head Coach We were all a little bit surprised to see Jessie lead qualifying by 2.5 seconds. But her performances the last two weeks had showed she had the ability. But a few other coaches were really questioning it.
To have three ladies make it in was a great way to start. Andy made it and Simi was just a few hundredths out. Good race, too, from Mike Sinnott in 37th. With little World Cup experience to be in the top half of the field is pretty cool.
In the heats, Jessie didn’t know a lot of what to expect but just skied her own race. Each of the three women got quick starts and in the semifinals they were able to control the race.
It was really a grinding course for women at 1,500 meters and almost 3:40. Conditions were quite slow with cold temperatures, -16 C and windblown new snow. You had to be tough to ski out there today. It was a day for athletes who weren’t afraid to be out there.
It was a tough course on which to pass. If you went out to the side you either got buffetted by the wind or got onto un-skied-in tracks and slowed down.