Jessie Diggins gets a congratulatory hug and kiss from teammate Kikkan Randall after their second place finish in the Milan World Cup team sprint. (USSA-Matt Whitcomb)
MILAN, Italy (Jan. 15) - U.S. Ski Team teammates Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) and Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) combined in a hard fought battle to take second in the team sprint at the FIS Cross Country World Cup in Milan. It was Diggins' first podium in only her third World Cup and her very first team sprint. Diggins skied a very strong final leg, handing off to Randall to anchor with the World Cup leader holding off Canada for second at the line, as Sweden took the win. Russia took the victory in the men's sprint.
Second number two spot for the weekend for Kikkan Randall, who was runnerup in the individidual event Saturday.
Jessie Diggins, who swept to four U.S. titles a week ago, capped a strong weekend in only her second and third World Cups, scoring points Saturday and getting her first podium Sunday.
On her second handoff in the finals, a Swedish skier cutoff Diggins coming into her handoff to Randall, sending her sprawling. Randall came back for the tag before sprint back to the pack.
The FIS World Cup now heads to Otepaa, Estonia for a classic sprint and 15k/10k classic.
QUOTES Kikkan Randall In the third exchange Jessie fell but I wasn't nervous. I know anything can happened in ateam sprint - we had some bad luck in other team sprints before. I pushed hard to get back into the race. It cost some extra energy but I made it and I am happy to be on the podium with Jessie and also with our friends from Canada. We had a training camp together with the Canadians last summer and pushed each other to a high level.
Jessie and I hadn't raced together before and Jessie had actually never even done a team sprint. We talked strategy before the race. Sadie (Bjornsen) passed along some advice from Duesseldorf and we practiced some tags in the warmup.
There were a lot of teams changing places, depending on tags and crashes, etc. We wanted to get in a good position early and then move up through the race.
The exchange zone was really close coming off the final turn so it was always hard to lineup for your teammate. Everyone was coming in so fast and together that it was hard to navigate without collisions.
I think another skier cut right in front of Jessie just before the tag. I was already accelerating, thinking we were about to have an awesome tag, when I felt Jessie crash into me. I didn't feel the hand to body contact though so I had to stop and go backwards towards her. She fell again as we tagged but we got the right contact this time and I had to charge after the pack which had already turned the corner.
I knew I still had a shot to get back up there so I chased hard to make up the gap. Just as I got on the back, the pace picked up again and I had to dig one more level.
Jessie really got after it on her final lap and then we nailed the final tag which shot me into the lead going into the final leg. I didn't really want to lead but I tried to keep the pace high to hopefully wear out some of the others.
Jessie Diggins It was awesome being here on the World Cup. I came in with no expectations and was just hoping to qualify yesterday.
Today was the first time I've been in a team sprint. I asked Kikkan and my other teammates how it worked, what you did in the breaks and trying to learn how my body would feel. In warmup, Kikkan and I practiced some exchanges. And we talked about tactics like trying to stay at the front but not leading. Everyone helped me prepare!
It was a new experience and I fell twice during exchanges when skiers cut in front of me and stepped on my skis.
I felt good about my last leg. I really needed to do a solid round with a good takeoff to put us in position. Starting a couple hundred meters to go I just went all out and made a clean exchange.
I'm looking forward to going to Estonia this weekend. I've been there twice, including Junior Worlds last year, so it will be cool to go there with some familiarity.
Chandra Crawford (Canada) I am lucky to be a part of the North American team. It is really nice to be on the podium together with them. We have a lot of fun together.