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US skier Jessie Diggins works hard and dreams big, inspiring her teammates at Olympics

Rachel Blount, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Olympics

This season, Diggins finished third overall in the multistage Tour de Ski, the first North American woman ever to make the podium in that event.

"I met Jessie when she was 15 or 16 years old," said Randall, who will ski in her fifth Olympics in Pyeongchang. "I saw this girl skiing with her ponytail flapping, and I thought, 'Wow. That girl has the right energy. She could be good.'

"Two or three years later, she was on the world championships team. She skied incredibly well, but she had to learn the ways of being on the road and the demands of competing in Europe. Now we're seeing it all pay off, and she's only 26. The best for her is yet to come."

The convivial competitor

During the 2015-16 season, Randall -- the team's longtime standard-bearer -- took the year off after having a baby. Diggins landed on World Cup podiums six times that season, yet she took pains to ensure she didn't monopolize the spotlight.

She's always been a ray of light in a sport that could quickly turn grim under the weight of its physical demands. The U.S. team's "glitter fairy" started a tradition of face-painting on race day several years ago to keep things light and fun. If there's a birthday, she's singing and baking muffins. If there's free time, she's organizing a bowling outing or convincing teammates to go sky diving or bungee jumping.

 

"Everyone on our team has a role, and Jessie is the bubbly, energetic, bring-everybody-up person," Bjornsen said. "She's the first one to celebrate with you, and she totally brings the good in the bad times."

In 2016, Diggins' gleeful antics went viral. She choreographed a dance routine to Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk," taught it to the entire U.S. team, shot a video and saw it rack up more than a million views on the web.

"Coaches, techs, anyone who comes in my way, I will face-paint them all," Diggins said. "The glitter, for me, is a promise to honor the little girl who just wants to go super-speed. This is supposed to be fun. You don't ever want to lose that."

In her joyful orbit, no one is truly a rival. Anne Hart of Stillwater, now Diggins' teammate and roommate with the Stratton Mountain School T2 team in Vermont, laughs at the assumption that there was any edge to their epic teenage showdowns.

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