Nordic

Diggins Leads Strong Day For USA

by
Tom Kelly
2017-02-18 08:14
 

OTEPAA, Estonia (Feb. 18, 2017) - The USA put seven skiers into the heats Saturday in a freestyle sprint World Cup in Otepaa, with Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) coming away with fifth to lead the day. Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) led the U.S. men in eighth.

“The final results were solid, but what we really take away from today as we head into World Championships is confidence,” said Coach Matt Whitcomb. “We qualified very fast today – five in the top 12, with four of them advancing through to the semifinals and placing in the top 10.”

It was a wild sprint course with a twisty-turn finish that took its toll tactically on the U.S. during the day.

“We were right there in the mix, not getting strung out, and this tells us that we have a bunch of athletes in peak form,” added Whitcomb.

One of the key stories of the day was the continued emergence of Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, AK) as a contender. Randall qualified third and finished 10th, skiing aggressively and making moves in both the quarterfinals and semifinals towards the lead. 

"I was pleasantly surprised with the fast qualifier position today," Randall said. "I felt good, but not exceptional during my race. To be able to lay down a fast qualifier like that gives me confidence that I’ve made it one step closer to the kind of race form I had when I was contending for wins and podiums in every skate sprint."

Sophie Caldwell (Peru, VT) was fourth in qualifying, just behind Randall, with Ida Sargent (Orleans, VT) 10th, Diggins 12th and Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) 25th. Hamilton qualified seventh with Newell 16th.

In the quarterfinals, Caldwell opened with a strong heat, making a big move on the downhill into the stadium, then taking second with a perfectly timed lunge to advance. Showing confidence from her PyeongChang podium two weeks ago, Ida Sargent (Orleans, VT) skied strong, battling elbow to elbow, but just missed making it to semis. 

In Randall’s quarterfinal, she skied aggressively, looking like her World Cup title form of three years ago. Coming into the stadium, Randall, standing third, made a tactical move to cut inside on a corner with sufficient momentum that would have carried her into the lead. But she was pinched down and lost speed to finish third and just outside the lucky loser position. She caught a break when officials relegated heat winner Natalia Matveeva to last on an obstruction charge, bumping Randall into second and on to the semifinals.

Diggins had full command of her heat from start to finish, save a short segment when she fell in behind Sweden’s Ida Ingemarsdotter, before taking the lead back and winning handily.

Hamilton also had a strong quarterfinal, skiing with the leaders the entire distance then putting down a tactical move in the final stretch to finish second. In his semifinal, he ran fourth most of the way before putting on a strong finish sprint but was just out-lunged at the line to miss finals by just .04.

Diggins and Randall were both in the second semifinal heat - an aggressive battle from start to finish. Diggins took on Norway’s Heidi Weng and Sweden’s Hanna Falk in a heated battle, with Randall right in the mix. Around 200 meters from the finish, Randall got caught up in the battle and went down. Diggins went on to win by over a second.

"I was definitely bummed have missed out on the chance to test myself against the best in the final today, but I am really encouraged with how I felt all day" Randall said. "I learned some good tactical lessons and I am really looking forward to another chance in a few days!"

Coming out of an intense battle in the second heat of semis, Diggins had little time to recover and was not able to match the pace set by race winner Stina Nilsson of Norway.

“In the final, I struggled with my technique on that steep headwall since it required a totally different kind of climbing,” said Diggins. “I had burned quite a bit of gas doing some leading early on in the day to ensure a place in the final.”

“Jessie carried the flag for us into the finals after skiing two very impressive rounds,” added Whitcomb. “But at the end of the day didn’t quite have the giddy-up on the last climb, which was deep and steep.”

Johannes Klaebo of Norway won for the men.

The World Cup continues Sunday with a 15k classic for men and 10k for women. From there it’s on to Lahti for the World Championships, which open Wednesday.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The USA qualified five women and two men into the heats in a World Cup freestyle sprint in Otepaa, Estonia.
  • Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) led the USA in fifth. Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) was eighth.
  • Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) continued her strong comeback in recent weeks finishing 10th and skiing aggressively.

 

QUOTES
Jessie Diggins
In the final I struggled with my technique on that steep headwall since it required a totally different kind of climbing. I had burned quite a bit of gas doing some leading early on in the day to ensure a place in the final.

I had awesome skis and my body is feeling like it knows something big is coming up next week. I was feeling tired in my legs coming into today but every time I skied they felt better and better. It was a good confidence-building day to see where my fitness is at and know that my training plan has been working out. Luckily for me, the course next week in Lahti suits my strengths and I’m really looking forward to racing there!

Kikkan Randall
I was pleasantly surprised with the fast qualifier position today. I felt good, but not exceptional during my race. To be able to lay down a fast qualifier like that gives me confidence that I’ve made it one step closer to the kind of race form I had when I was contending for wins and podiums in every skate sprint.

I was definitely bummed have missed out on the chance to test myself against the best in the final today, but I am really encouraged with how I felt all day.  I learned some good tactical lessons and I am really looking forward to another chance in a few days!

Matt Whitcomb – Head Coach
The final results were solid, but what we really take away from today as we head into World Championships is confidence. We qualified very fast today – five in the top 12, with four of them advancing through to the semifinals and placing in the top 10.

We were right there in the mix, not getting strung out, and this tells us that we have a bunch of athletes in peak form.

Jessie carried the flag for us into the finals after skiing two very impressive rounds. But at the end of the day didn’t quite have the giddy-up on the last climb, which was deep and steep.

RESULTS
Men’s freestyle sprint
Women’s freestyle sprint