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Cross Country Team Posts Historic Season

By Tom Horrocks
April, 30 2021
Team Shot
The Davis U.S. Cross Country Team racked up two World Cup overall titles; the first American FIS Tour de Ski overall victory, five World Cup victories, and 14 World Cup podiums. (U.S. Ski & Snowbboard)

To say that the Davis U.S. Cross Country Team experienced a historical season, would be an understatement! This past season, the team racked up two World Cup overall titles; the first American FIS Tour de Ski overall victory, five World Cup victories, and 14 World Cup podiums.

Most importantly, many of the younger athletes took advantage of numerous World Cup and World Championship starts to score numerous top 30 results, and gain a significant amount of experience competing against the best athletes in the world.

With the COVID pandemic eliminating all pre-season team camps, shuffling the World Cup schedule, and severely restricting the amount of pre-season on-snow training, the team went into the 2020-21 season with cautious optimism. Some normalcy was found as the traditional season-opening event took place in Ruka, Finland, however, it pretty much ended there as the second World Cup of the season in the Nordic hotbed of Lillehammer, Norway, was canceled due to the pandemic.

Not all was lost early-season though. A number of U.S. athletes live and train in Anchorage, and thanks to early-season snow, they came into Ruka with a number of on-snow days, ready to fight for results. Rosie Brennan and Hailey Swirbul opened the season with top-20 classic sprint results in Ruka, then Brennan backed that up with an eighth-place finish in the 10k classic, followed by a fifth-place finish in the 10k freestyle pursuit to finish fifth overall in the Ruka Mini Tour. On the men’s side, Gus Schumacher flashed a glimpse of what was to come for the remainder of the season, picking up his first career World Cup points with a 24-place “Time of Day” result in the 15k pursuit.

Following a rare week off, Brennan came into the second World Cup event of the season in Davos, Switzerland, on fire - taking not only her first World Cup victory in the freestyle sprint, but her second career World Cup win the following day in the 10k freestyle. As a bonus, she also shared the podium with her teammate as Swirbul picked up her first career podium result, finishing third. Brennan also took the overall World Cup leader’s bib and both the sprint and distance leader’s bibs. 

Davos provided a huge turning point for the Americans as 10 U.S. athletes scored World Cup points in the sprint, including Logan Hanneman, who posted a career-best World Cup result in ninth; Kevin Bolger in 13th; Simi Hamilton in 14th; JC Schoonmaker a career-best 18th; and Schumacher with a career-best sprint result in 25th. Sophie Caldwell Hamilton also finished fifth; Julia Kern was 11th; Jessie Diggins 13th; and Swirbul was 19th. Hannah Halvorsen finished 38th in her return to World Cup racing.

Caldwell Hamilton racked up the team’s fourth podium of the season, taking second in the freestyle sprint in Dresden, Germany. Meanwhile, Halvorsen picked up her first career World Cup points, advancing to the heats and finishing a career-best 23rd.

Heading into the 15th Annual FIS Tour de Ski, Diggins was just finding her form for the season’s first big goal - “My goal is to give it a really good, honest shot at an overall podium,” she said prior to the first event. After finishing third in the opening sprint, Diggins grabbed her second-straight podium, finishing third in the 10k classic mass start, with Brennan in sixth. The next day proved historic, with Diggins and Brennan going 1-2 in the freestyle pursuit and the overall standings. Diggins and Brennan went 1-2 again as the Tour moved to Italy in the 10k individual freestyle. Meanwhile, Schumacher skied an impressive race, leading the U.S. men in the 15k freestyle and finishing a World Cup career-best 14th. 

Halfway into the eight-stage event, Diggins and Brennan were sitting 1-2 in the overall standings, with Schumacher poised to post the best U.S. men’s finish in the history of the TdS. In the final three events, Diggins held her lead, Schumacher posted a career-best 8th-place in the 15k classic mass start, and Brennan got bit by the bad luck bug but rallied to finish sixth overall. Schumacher finished 19th in the final stage to post the best Tour de Ski finish ever for an American man; Swirbul finished 18th overall; and Katharine Ogden finished a career-best 23rd overall. But of course, the big story was Diggins’ overall victory - the first for an American!

“Wow!” Diggins said after completing her eighth Tour de Ski and taking a huge lead in the overall World Cup standings. “This is a lifelong really means a lot.”

Just a couple of weeks after her historic TdS win, Diggins achieved the season’s most impressive victory in Falun, Sweden, winning the 10k freestyle individual start against a staked World Cup field that included Norway’s Therese Johaug, who finished second, by just 2.1 seconds. Schumacher also posted another top-10 World Cup result, finishing ninth in the men’s 15k. Diggins added another World Cup podium the following weekend in Sweden, further extending her World Cup lead.

With the remaining World Cup schedule in flux, all eyes turned to the 2021 World Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany. And while the Americans did not win a medal at the World Champs, there were numerous incredible performances, from Diggins fourth-place finish in the 10k freestyle; to Sadie Maubet Bjornsen and Rosie Brennan teaming up to finish fifth in the team sprint, and Diggins, Brennan, Maubet Bjornsen and Swirbul finishing fourth in the team relay. 

Not to be overshadowed by the women, the U.S. men put up some impressive results at the World Champs. In the men’s team relay, Simi Hamilton, David Norris, Scott Patterson, and Schumacher teamed up to post the best 4x10k relay finish in decades for the Americans, finishing eighth. Add in Patterson’s 10th-place finish, and Norris’s 16th place result in the 50k classic, and the U.S. men had a lot to cheer about.

Other notable World Championship results included Sophia Laukli posting three top-30 results in her first World Championships; Ben Ogden finishing 17th in the classic sprint; and Hunter Wonders 31st in the skiathlon and 37th in the 50k classic.

But the icing on the season’s cake was Jessie Diggins becoming only the second American to win the FIS Cross Country overall World Cup Crystal Globe, and the first American woman to win the title.