Diggins, Brennan Go 2-3 In Ruka 20k Skate
Another day, another podium for the Stifel U.S. Cross Country Ski Team. Teammates Jessie Diggins and Rosie Brennan put all the pieces together in a gutsy mass start 20k to leave Ruka with a double USA podium, with Diggins in second and Brennan in third.
On the last day of racing in Finland, the U.S. team was coming off top results from Brennan's second-place result the day prior. Temperatures were frigid - at times, it was less than 1 degree Fahrenheit - yet the field of 49 racers lined the start lanes for the first mass start of the season, ready to ski eight laps around the grueling 2.5k course.
Through the first couple laps, the pack stuck together with very little movement, but as time went on the lead pack gained momentum with powerhouse nations Sweden and Norway flooding the top 10. But then came Brennan, Diggins and Laukli.
On the fourth lap, packs were forming and the lead pack featured three Americans pushing the pace. With just 2.5k to go, things became interesting. At the top of the "stair-stepper climb," Diggins lost a pole and immediately began searching for another. While doing so, she was hit in the face by the spare, resulting in not only a bloody lip and cheek, but a lost glove. With 1.5k to go, Diggins dug deep going into the long downhill, with only one glove, a spare pole and 1.5k of course left.
"I had to dig really, really deep for that one," said Diggins. "I lost a pole and my glove with it with about 1.5k left to go. I quickly got a replacement pole - that ended up smashing me in the face, which resulted in me having a pretty bloody mouth, but I finished the race!"
On the final hill, Diggins and Brennan were charging, alongside Moa Ilar of Sweden and Lotta Udnes Weng of Norway. In the final stretch, with the crowd going wild, Diggins and Brennan pull off a feat every nation strives for - landing two teammates on the podium. Diggins was second and Brennan was third. Laukli finished in 14th, breaking into the top 20 in expert fashion and rounding out three American women in the top 20.
For the men, Gus Schumacher led the day for the American men with a 14th place result, capping off a successful weekend for Schumacher in Ruka. Scott Patterson was not far behind in 22nd and teammate Zanden McMullen scored his career-best result in 28th.
At the end of the day in the finish pen, it took Diggins some time to warm up with the help of her teammates, athletes from other nations, USA support staff and coaches shedding their own layers to keep her warm. At the podium ceremony, Diggins was all smiles alongside Brennan, who had just secured her second podium of the weekend.
"I'm super motivated by my results this weekend because its giving me confidence that my summer of training was really good," said Brennan. "Today was definitely motivating and i'm looking forward to what's next!"
Next on the World Cup program is the Gällivare World Cup in Sweden, with a 10k skate and 4x7.5k relay, Dec. 2-3, 2023.