Getty Images Jessie Diggins

The United States has just one Olympic cross-country skiing medal (Bill Koch's silver in the 30 km in 1976 in Innsbruck), and in 2018 Jessie Diggins might be best bet for an American woman to break through. The 26-year-old is in her second Olympics and has four World Championship medals to her name. In January, she took third place at the seven-stage Tour de Ski in Italy, becoming the first American to reach the podium at the event. She started her 2018 Olympics with a fifth-place finish at the 15-km skiathlon Saturday. Diggins is also known around the cross-country skiing world as the "Glitter Fairy" for her ritual of styling her face in glitter before race days. Diggins' recent glitter color of choice: Gold. Glitter karma can go a long way.

TPG: People think of Minnesota as a winter state, but not as much of a "Winter Olympics" state because of the terrain. What drew you to cross-country skiing, growing up in Minnesota?
DIGGINS: I’ve actually been on skis my entire life. My parents are super into everything outdoors; camping, hiking, fishing, canoeing. They would go skiing every weekend in the winter because it's an awesome way to be outside. It's a really amazing workout and it's just a cool way to enjoy the outdoors. When I was a baby they would put me in their backpack and off we would go. Then when I joined the high school team, that's when I really got into racing. The high school cross-country skiing scene is amazing. There were 120 kids on my high school team. We worked so hard and we had so much fun, and that's what really got me loving the team aspect of it, and saying, "I want to do this because I want to be on a team of people that’s training hard together."

TPG: Are the cross-country skiers like the "jocks" in Minnesota high schools?
DIGGINS: If this was "Grease," the movie, we would not be the jocks.

TPG: I assume you grew up knowing the history of cross-country skiing in the United States, which isn't so glamorous. Other than one men's medal, there have been no medals for United States cross-country skiing. What has kept pushing you, knowing that the U.S. has struggled and other countries have devoted more money into cross-country skiing?
DIGGINS: Everyone loves an underdog. We don't have the same resources as other countries and that's for sure. It's getting better and better, and we are starting to get to that level. But I think it's the challenge of doing something that's never been done before, I think that's so cool. You're trying to bring home the first ever medal in women's cross-country skiing and I think there's something awesome about that.

TPG: You came in third place [in Tour de Ski] just a few weeks ago. How real does this dream of making the medal stand now feel?
DIGGINS: Yeah, I mean definitely things need to fall into place on race day. You need to have the right wax on your skis, you need to feel good, you can't even get the tiniest sniffle of a cold. But if everything falls into place, I think it's really exciting because we have a shot. We've had five different girls get on the podium this year alone, and I think that dream is very much in reach. We're taking a lot of confidence into these Games, knowing that if things go well on race day, we definitely have a shot. I think it would be so cool if we could make it happen in the team events.

TPG: Which event do you feel the most confident about going into the Olympics?
DIGGINS: The ones that I'm the most excited about are the relays. For me, it would mean the most to have a medal as a team because that's how we got to this point. So, the team sprint and the 4x5 relay. I think we medaled in the team sprint last year at the World Championships, with the same competitors, same races, so we medaled in it, and I think we have a really good shot.

Jessie Diggins Wearing Glitter

TPG: As for the glitter, and this legend that has come about you. How real is it? Do you still put glitter on before every race?
DIGGINS: Every single race. And I glitter up my roommate too. Whoever is rooming with me at the time, they get a bunch of it. Right now, I'm on the gold glitter streak. I put glitter on, and it's just a little promise to myself that I'm going to go out swinging hard. I'm going to go out with confidence and I'm going to do it because I love it and I think it's so fun, and it's a reminder to myself to have fun.

TPG: Is there an origin to how that started?
DIGGINS: Just like back in high school, we used to paint up our faces on race day and it turned into glitter. It's kind of fun to have a little sparkle on your cheek.

TPG: In countries like Austria and Norway, how crazy are people about cross-country skiing?
DIGGINS: I go to Norway and it's their No. 1 sport. It's crazy because it's our own Super Bowl in a way because there are 50,000 fans camped out in the woods and they put up generators to watch the races to watch when the skiers aren't going by them. People are crazy about skiing, and it's so cool because in the U.S., cross-country skiing isn't such a big sport, but in Scandinavia, it's pretty huge.

TPG: Obviously, you have to be in incredible shape to be a cross-country skier. What is the most unique workout technique you do to maintain your fitness?
DIGGINS: People don't always realize that we do a lot of endurance training. One workout last summer was that I just wanted to run a marathon on trails, just for my fitness training. So I ran for six hours and 45 minutes on the Appalachian Trail and that was just my Sunday workout. I had Monday off and then it was back to training again. That’s just an example that this is a sport that is extreme in how far you push your body. I train around 850 hours a year. That doesn't count stretching, yoga, physical therapy. That only counts times that I am actually sweating.

TPG: What athlete are you really looking forward to meeting in the Olympic Village?
DIGGINS: I'm so excited to cheer on so many people, but I really love Mikaela Shiffrin. I'm excited to see her crush it and she also loves to dance. I think she's rad. I'm really stoked for her.
 
TPG: Who is one athlete who you've looked up to growing up or someone that has served as a mentor for you?
DIGGINS: My high school coach has served as such a mentor and a best friend and a second mom to me since I was in high school. She's also an awesome skier. Her name is Kris Hansen.  She really helped me figure out how to balance racing and training with my high school team, but also starting to race internationally.

ThePostGame: This Unicorn Ice Breakers thing. What exactly is this?
JESSIE DIGGINS: Team Unicorn is partnering with Ice Breakers. It's a really fun way to help Team USA fans go after their own goals. Unicorns are the symbol of Ice Breakers. When I was called up and asked to join Team Unicorn, I was like, "Wow, this is so perfect," because I've been working so hard on building upon my confidence through skiing. Our sport takes so much self-confidence and self-belief. You have to believe in yourself and believe in your plan. Being a part of Team Unicorn is really an honor, and it's fun. You can't take yourself so seriously, so this portrait of us riding unicorns, I think is great.


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