10 Athletes of the Year: #3 Jessie Diggins

Each January, Vermont Sports Magazine publishes the profiles of 10 Vermont athletes who have made our state proud in the past year. Even with race schedules cut short, travel curtailed and being isolated from training partners, these athletes pushed through the year of Covid-19 and showed how you can stay motivated, stay fit and stay on top of the game. Here’s our annual salute to 10 athletes Vermont should be proud of.  See a full list of 2020‘s 10 Athletes of the Year as well as links to previous years’ honorees. 

Jessie Diggins’ Winning Tour

On Sunday, January 11, 2021 Jessie Diggins dug deep into her pain cave, lunging up a final hill in the last of 8 races she had skied in 10 days. She crossed the finish line in second place at the 10-k freestyle race in Val di Fiemmi, Italy, collapsed face down in the snow and then burst into tears. She had just accomplished what no American had ever done: she won the Tour de Ski. 

The Tour de Ski, a test of stamina, counts not just wins but overall accumulated time for those 8 races. She had taken the lead in the third race of the series and by Sunday, had amassed a 54 second lead.

Even though she finished nine seconds behind the leader, her winning margin was intact. It also placed her at the top of the World Cup standings. Rosie Brennan, of Anchorage, was right behind her in the standings. The Norwegian team, which has won the past seven Tours, citing concerns for the coronavirus, did not compete this year.

The Tour win, combined with the 2018 gold medal she and Kikkan Randall earned in the 2018 Olympics, underscores Jessie’s place in history as the best U.S. Nordic skier since another Vermonter, Bill Koch, won the World Cup in 1982. Jessie called her victory “a career goal come to life.”

Though she hails from Afton, Minnesota and the Midwest rightfully claims her as theirs, Jessie owns a home in Stratton and spends summers and fall training here, along with the many other Vermonters on the T2 Team that former coach Sverre Caldwell mentored. Most of the rest of the year, she is on the road racing.

This year saw her spending more time in the Green Mountains than ever. In April, she got engaged to her longtime boyfriend, former hockey star Wade Poplawski. With Wade able to work remotely from his Boston job and quarantining required, the two spent the summer training, hiking the Presidential Traverse and jumping in swimming holes. As for her training, see Todd Smith’s account of what it’s like to work out with Jessie Diggins see “A Week in Jessie Diggins’ Pain Cave.”A Week in Jessie Diggins’ Pain Cave.

See a full list of 2020‘s 10 Athletes of the Year as well as links to previous years’ honorees. 

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