Jessie Diggins enters fourth Olympic cycle renewed: ‘I don’t have to prove anything’

The three-time Olympic medallist has plans for 2026, but first she's pumped for the season to come, including the new 50 km women's event - and the elusive team relay at Worlds.

(Picture by GETTY IMAGES)

Over a decade after her World Cup debut and having just competed in her third Olympic Games, American cross-country skier Jessie Diggins is far from done.

“I could retire right now and be really happy with my life, but I'm still here because I love to do what I do and I love my team,” the 31-year-old said on a recent video call with reporters.

“I'm not racing because I feel like I have to win or I have to prove anything... I don't have to prove anything to anyone,” added the three-time Olympic medallist.

“And I think that takes a lot of the pressure off. So I feel like I'm in a much better place now.”

The cross-country World Cup season gets underway on Friday (25 November) in Ruka, Finland, where Diggins and her American teammates have already been training.

Nearly five years after Diggins and teammate Kikkan Randall made history by winning the U.S. its first-ever cross-country Olympic gold at PyeongChang 2018, Diggins is only digging in further – setting sights on new American success in the relays, speaking out in support of the 50 km race being added for women and shouting out her top supporter for keeping her going: Her husband.

Diggins digs in for another Olympic quad

After the historic team sprint gold in PyeongChang, Diggins captured the overall World Cup title in 2021 leading into Beijing 2022, facing what she described as “the most pressure I’ll ever feel in my life.”

It was in Beijing that she would capture silver in the 30 km mass start and bronze in the sprint, adding four other top 10 finishes, including fifth in the team sprint alongside Rosie Brennan. But there is no backing down for Diggins following her third Olympic appearance.

“I’m excited to race as much and as hard as I can and see what I can do when chasing after the globes,” Diggins said plainly, a nod to the globe-shaped trophy World Cup winners are awarded.

Saying she was exhausted at the finish of the Olympic season, Diggins turned her attention to something else important in her life: Getting married to longtime partner Wade Poplawski in late May.

It is Poplawski who has been instrumental in encouraging Diggins to continue to follow her passion.

“He was like, ‘You love doing this, I can see it,’” Diggins shared. “’You love training even when it's rainy, even when it's awful. You really love what you do and you love your team.’"

Diggins said the two discussed the shelf-life of an elite athlete, particularly that she won’t be able to compete at this high of a level forever – while also the causes away from the sport the Diggins is passionate about, including mental health, spreading awareness around eating disorders and being an advocate for global warming – in her decision to continue.

“I feel like [Poplawski's] total unconditional support of me continuing to do this was probably the biggest factor,” she said of her husband. “Because I love what I do, but it's not easy to be on the road all the time. So I feel a lot of love and support and I think that makes it easier to be [competing].”

While the plans are still season-by-season, Diggins isn’t shy about eyeing Milano Cortina 2026: “I feel if I'm healthy and uninjured, I'm definitely planning to do the 2026 Olympics. Yeah.”

Jessie Diggins' new horizons: 50 km and Capitol Hill

This season, the International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS) has added the 50 km race for women while moving for all of its race lengths to be even for men and women, which historically had not happened.

Diggins has been outspoken on the topic – in the past and now.

“I've been waiting my whole life to race the actual 50 km,” Diggins said. “I think it's total crap that the women never got to race this iconic distance. It made me feel really sad and mad. And so now I'm finally getting a chance to race it.”

She added: “I just think it's really cool that we finally get the chance to do this. So I'm very, very grateful to FIS and everyone for making that change. I think it sends a really important message... to young women, that you are totally capable of doing anything that you want to. If you train hard and you work hard, you can do it."

"And I think that's the right message that we want to send.”

Diggins is a veteran on a U.S. squad that once again includes Brennan, as well as two athletes who just made their Olympic debut at Beijing, 25-year-old Julia Kern and 20-year-old Novie McCabe.

Hailey Swirbul and Sophia Laukli are ones to watch, too.

Diggins’ advocacy hasn’t just been within the sport: In April she went to U.S. Capitol Hill to speak with lawmakers about climate change with the non-profit Protect Our Winters, joined by fellow Olympians Kaitlyn Farr, Jared Shumate, Troy Murphy and Gus Schumacher, among others.

“I used a story [about] battling through food poisoning in a 30 km as an example that sometimes conditions are not perfect and just because something's hard doesn't mean it's not worthwhile,” Diggins explained of her meeting with lawmakers.

“Finding solutions that both sides agree on is really hard, but it is worthwhile. It was very, very cool to be able to [do that]. I think it's easy when we talk about climate change to sometimes get a little cynical and kind of give up because it is such a long, uphill battle. But I think that doesn't mean that it's OK to give up on it.”

Jessie Diggins: Fan mail and season goals

Diggins is used to get plenty of messages from fans, but she recently discovered a stack of fan mail at home that she had mis-placed. Within it was a wedding invitation from total strangers (the date had already passed), as well as a letter from a young woman going through recovery from an eating disorder.

“She shared her story with me and I wanted to get ahold of her and tell her that she's doing all the right things and working really hard and that it is a hard process,” Diggins said. “Recovery isn't a very linear thing: It can go up and down and sometimes backwards. I was hoping I'd find a way to reach her, but I haven't yet.”

Diggins is also serving in another mentor role: For the U.S. team – but she says she’s open to learning from her teammates, too – even at 31 years old.

“I'm trying really hard to be a very open resource so they know they can ask me anything, she said. “I really enjoy being a mentor for my younger teammates, and I think it's important to recognise it's not a one way street: They give me so much energy and perspective in return. It's a really good system.”

While the season will stretch from November into March, the finish line is where Diggins has her eye fixed on: The World Championships in Slovenia.

The 4 x 5 km relay is an event Diggins has never won an Olympic or World medal in.

In fact, Team USA has finished in fourth place at four of the previous five Worlds stagings.

“I'm always excited for World Champs, but especially those relays,” a coy Diggins said. “I just I live for that and I think we've been knocking on the door many, many, many times. We're excited to put on the striped socks and the glitter and face paint and be as ready as we can. And I always love that goal in the team relays because it is the depth of the nation and it shows like how well that you push each other in summer training. Not just how well can you do, but how well can all of you do.”

“And it takes commitment from a team. So I think that's why I get excited about those.”

It’s a theme that continues to loom large for a seasoned veteran like Diggins: She isn’t backing down.

“For the foreseeable future, I love what I do. So yeah, I am still doing it.”

Add these to your favourites
Cross-Country SkiingCross-Country Skiing
United States of AmericaUSA
More from

You May Like