Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Jessie Diggins broke up a troika of Swedish cross-country racers at the Beijing Olympics Tuesday, snaring a hard-won bronze medal — and making history as the first U.S. athlete to medal in an individual sprint in cross country.
It’s the second medal for Diggins, who won a historic gold in the team sprint free at the Pyeongchang Olympics four years ago. Diggins teamed up with Kikkan Randall for that grueling event, in which two racers pass the relay back and forth three times. They became the first U.S. women to win a medal in cross-country skiing.
But in China Tuesday, Diggins was all on her own, facing the challenge of hanging with Swedish world champion Jonna Sundling — who blasted out to an early lead with two other Swedes, Maja Dahlqvist and Emma Ribom.
Sundling pulled away to a commanding lead, but Diggins challenged Dahlqvist for silver, finishing just behind her at the line. Another U.S. athlete, Rosie Brennan, came in fourth.
Before she could reach the final, Diggins had to overcome an equipment problem in her quarterfinal race, when she was forced to swap out a broken pole during the race. She still won by 2 seconds, well ahead of Ribom, who was second.
The only other time a U.S. athlete has won an individual medal in cross country came in 1976, when Bill Koch won silver in the men’s 30 km race at the Innsbruck Olympics.