Jesse Diggins screams with joy after winning the 5k freestyle in the Lillehammer mini tour by 4.8 seconds over Norway's Heidi Weng. (Getty Images/AFP-Terje Pedersen)
LILLEHAMMER, Norway (Dec. 3, 2016) - American Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) charged around the 5k course on the Olympic trails in Lillehammer to win the second stage of the Lillehammer mini tour FIS Cross Country World Cup Saturday. It was the third win of her career. Diggins put 4.8 seconds on second place finisher and tour leader Heidi Weng of Norway.
The win boosted Diggins to third in the weekend tour and into the top 10 in the FIS Cross Country World Cup season standings.
"I’m so happy with my day today," said a stunned Diggins in the finish. "I’m so lucky to have the most amazing team. When you get to train with the coolest people, it opens up opportunities. My skis were great and I love this course."
The win matched her victory in Toblach, Italy in last season's Tour de Ski, also in a 5k freestyle. She also teamed up with Kikkan Randall for a team sprint win in Quebec in December 2012.
"Having such a strong team means the world to me and today our techs and coaches gave me an amazing opportunity with lightning fast skis," she added. "When they gave me this opportunity, I had to take it."
Diggins charged relentlessly around the 5k track, accelerating up hills and skating ferociously to the finish to take an early lead. Going out 34th in the interval start race, she had to wait for 60th-starting Weng to know she had the win.
The Lillehammer course played to Diggins' strengths. And after three straight classic races to start the season, she was fired up for the day. "I had the cheering and belief of the team on my mind as my goal was to get out and charge as hard as I could throughout the whole course," she said. "I knew this course played to my strengths with fun, swooping downhills so I looked for every second I could get out there."
A pied piper for the sport over the past few seasons, one of the most important things on her mind was how this would motivate others. "I hope this helps back home," she said. "I’m nothing special or different in any way. If I can do it, so can all the kids back home."
The win came on a venue in the heart of the sport's homeland and site of the 1994 Olympics. "It was very special to win here in Norway against a strong field," Diggins added. "I really look up to and respect my Norwegian friends and it was so cool to get hugs from them at the finish! I had a great time getting to know those girls better this summer and it's fun to see your friends do well!
"I'm just so proud of our staff and team, and it's going to be so fun to share this victory as we earned it - as a team."
Sadie Bjornsen (Anchorage, AK) continued her strong early season finishing 14th - her fourth straight top-20 finish.
"I was really excited to have a strong race on a tough course here," said Bjornsen. "I went out hard and tried to carry that momentum to the finish. I bobbled a bit in the middle, but feel very encouraged by the result during this time of the season. I believe I can build on it from here, and look forward to trying to improve each race! Tomorrow should be really fun to finish the tour off and do some classic skiing!"
Bjornsen and the entire team were pumped up by Diggins' win - only the second time an American has won in Norway.
"It was amazing to see Jessie standing on the top of the podium in Norway," Bjornsen added. "I am really inspired by her."
The Lillehammer tour winds up Sunday with a 15k classic pursuit for men and 10k for women.
Jessie Diggins won her third FIS Cross Country World Cup at the 5k freestyle in Lillehammer, Norway.
Diggins' win moved her up to third in the Lillehammer mini tour standings, 21 seconds behind Weng and less than a second out of the number two spot.
It is only the second time an American has won in Norway.
Sadie Bjornsen (Anchorage, AK) grabbed a top-15 result, finishing in 14th.
Liz Stephen (East Montpelier, VT) was in the points in 26th place.
Noah Hoffman (Aspen, CO) was the top American man in 33rd.