A new book traces decades of slow but steady progress in women’s Nordic skiing in the United States, which led up to triumphant moments like the bronze medal win by Jessie Diggins at these Winter Olympics.
"It took 50 years for the United States to find its particular Nordic culture," observed three-time Olympian Dorcas DenHartog of Hanover, New Hampshire.
DenHartog is one of the forces behind the new book "Trail to Gold: The Journey of 53 Women Skiers," which she described as a collaborative effort that formed out of a gathering of former athletes who wanted to see their sport’s history in the U.S. documented.
The book traces incremental progress in women’s cross-country skiing through competitors’ eyes, from when equipment specifically for women was unavailable, to struggles with funding and top-level coaching, to the rise of youth club programs.
The pinnacle of the project is the watershed moment when Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins won gold in the team sprint in 2018 — the first-ever Olympic medals for U.S. women in Nordic skiing.
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"It was super exciting," DenHartog said, adding that in the four years since that win, the U.S. women’s Nordic team has added even more skillful depth.
Diggins followed up the 2018 gold with a bronze last week in individual sprint — another U.S. first.
She acknowledged on Instagram the trailblazers profiled in the book, writing, “To the ones who came before me and are here with me: Thank you. This is your medal too.”
That victory is now being celebrated in Stratton, Vermont, where the two-time medalist often trains and supports the next generation of competitors with encouragement and advice.
“We are forever grateful for everything (Diggins) brings to the community,” said Carson Thurber, the head of school for Stratton Mountain School. “Boy, does she dig deep and work hard. It’s just remarkable to see how hard those cross-country athletes are able to push themselves, and she is leading the way.”
"It is so cool to see the sport progress," Diggins said. "When I first got on the U.S. Ski Team, we were so lucky because the only time we had ever gotten a sports massage or physical therapy work was during the world championships or the Tour de Ski. And now, of course you need somebody taking care of you all the time."
Diggins went on during the interview conducted on Halloween to say how grateful she is to feel well-supported by her team’s resources — indicating they are vastly improved over what her predecessors had decades ago.
"Of course you need a nutritionist traveling with the team right before the Olympics to make sure you’re on top of your iron and your vitamin D," Diggins said. "And it’s all these little things that today we’re like, 'Oh but of course, you’re a professional athlete, you should have help with these details.' That just wasn’t part of our reality or our budget back then."
Dorcas DenHartog said she is glad her sport now has a widely-recognized star, noting that she has seen girls and young women more interested in taking up Nordic skiing since the attention on Randall and Diggins in 2018.
"It’s a tremendous turning point for recruitment,” DenHartog said, adding that she hopes the positive advancements described in "Trail to Gold" only continue — including with more Olympic medal wins in the future.