PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – The question seemed to catch Jessie Diggins by surprise.
Do you feel medals will come?
“Well, yeah, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that,” Diggins said after finishing her second Olympic race.
The Afton native hasn’t reached the medal stand after two events, but her bid to make Olympic history is still very much attainable.
Diggins will try to become the first American woman to medal in cross-country in Olympic history on Thursday when she competes in her best event, the 10k freestyle (1:30 a.m. Central time). Diggins won that race at a World Cup event in Austria before arriving at the Winter Games.
Diggins said she isn’t discouraged by her start to these Winter Games. She has placed fifth and sixth in her first two events here. She sounded upbeat after both races.
“I’m really happy with where my shape is overall and where my form is,” she said.
Diggins made the final of the classic sprint Tuesday night but finished sixth at the Alpensia Cross-Country Skiing Center. She finished 11.23 seconds behind the winner, Sweden’s Stina Nilsson, who covered the course in 3:03.84.
Diggins placed fifth in the skiathlon on Saturday, which was the highest Olympic finish ever by an American woman in cross-country.
Classic sprint is not her strength, but she has improved her technique significantly this season. She owns a pair of top-10 finishes in the classic sprint in World Cup events this season.
“Just making the final is a huge step forward for me,” she said. “If you would have told me at the start of the year that I would make the Olympic classic sprint final I would have been like, ‘Ha, that’s funny. Good joke.’ ”
Diggins looked like a serious contender from the opening qualifications. She secured a spot in the final by finishing second in her semifinal in a photo finish. She raced in the second semifinal heat, leaving her about seven minutes less time to recover for the final. She didn’t use that as an excuse.
“I definitely didn’t recover quite enough coming from the second semifinal to the final,” she said. “I don’t know if I would have recovered enough from the first semifinal. I had to dig pretty deep just to make it.”
Diggins’ teammate Sophie Caldwell advanced to the semifinals but missed qualifying for the finals by 0.18 seconds.
In the finals, Diggins appeared to stumble as she neared the first corner, but that wasn’t the case. She said she was just trying to maneuver out of a bad spot.
“I was in the far outside lane, which is a terrible place to start,” she said. “You have to navigate before the corner because you have so much longer to ski otherwise. I was trying to move over without using any skating technique so I was kind of hopping over the tracks. I think it was a little bit awkward trying to move over.”
Diggins never really had a chance after that as the leaders pulled away. Her performance in the entire event left her encouraged as she prepares for her strongest races.
“I was crumbling a little bit on that last monster climb and working hard to keep it together,” she said. “But I went after it with everything I had. I really dug deep and pushed myself hard. I’m really proud of this race. It was a good one for me. It shows some good things to come.”