Gerard wins first gold for U.S.
Jessie Diggins finishes 5th in skiathlon, best ever for a US woman
Red Gerard won the first gold medal for the United States at the 2018 Winter Olympics in men’s slopestyle snowboarding.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Jessie Diggins wasn’t quite fast enough to catch the history she was chasing Saturday. That didn’t mean she finished her first race of the Pyeongchang Olympics with any disappointment, or without a meaningful achievement.
Diggins, of Afton, Minn., led the U.S. contingent with a fifth-place finish in the women’s skiathlon at Alpensia Cross-Country Skiing Center. Battling nerves and cramping, she still recorded the highest placing of any American woman in history in a crosscountry ski race at the Winter Games.
Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla used a bold move in the final two kilometers to win, with Marit Bjoergen of Norway taking silver and Krista Parmakoski of Finland earning bronze.
Kalla’s gold medal was the first awarded at the Pyeongchang Games and made her the first Swedish woman to win three Olympic crosscountry titles. Bjoergen set a record, too, with her 11th Olympic medal, the most won by any woman in cross-country at the Winter Games.
The American women would be delighted just to win their first Olympic medal in the sport. Though Diggins didn’t get it done in the skiathlon, which includes a 7.5-kilometer classic leg and 7.5k freestyle leg, she and her teammates have several more opportunities in Pyeongchang — and Saturday left her feeling good about their chances.
“Today was a good race for me,’’ said Diggins, whose time of 40 minutes, 59.6 seconds was 14.7 seconds behind Kalla. “It was not my best race, which I’m really happy about, because I’m ready to do some more.
“I’m really excited. I think I’m in a good place at these games. It’s really cool being seconds away from a medal and seeing it right there. I know it’s possible. I know I have what it takes.’’
The other Americans didn’t fare as well. Caitlin Patterson was 34th Kikkan Randall was 40th and Rosie Brennan was 58th. The U.S. women entered the Olympics shouldering heavy expectations, created by their move up the World Cup rankings. The greatest hopes rest with Diggins, third in the circuit’s overall standings. She clearly felt it, though the anxiety seemed to subside once she got going.
At the halfway point of the classic leg, Diggins was third, as close as she would get to the lead. She was trying to find the optimal position on a course she labeled as both tactical and “a serious grinder,’’ with a biting wind complicating things further. After falling back to 10th place early in the freestyle leg, she moved up steadily late in the race.
“There are a few crucial pinch points where you don’t want to be stuck behind people,’’ she said of the freestyle portion. “I was not in a smart position when Charlotte made her move. Then, when I got my body to start pushing, it just was a little bit late.
“I really was wrecked at the finish. I gave it absolutely everything I had, and I’m proud of that. So I’m walking away happy.’’
Kalla seized the early lead and set a brisk pace. Bjoergen moved up through a lead pack of about 20 skiers and passed Kalla on the second lap of the race. The two swapped positions several times before Kalla attacked on the final lap, charging to the front and immediately putting distance between her and the rest of the field.
Jessica Diggins of the United States reacts after the women’s 7.5km skiathlon cross-country skiing competition at the Winter Olympics Saturday in Pyeongchang, South Korea.