AFTON, Minn. (WCCO) — A Minnesota woman made history by being the first American to win an Olympic Gold medal in cross country skiing.
Jessie Diggins and partner Kikkan Randall won the women’s team sprint freestyle race. WCCO’s Molly Rosenblatt went to Diggins’ hometown of Afton and talked with her high school coach about her big win at the Winter Games.
Here in the small, tight-knit town of Afton, folks are elated for their hometown hero. Jessie Diggins’ neighbor, Mark Thoemke has lived here for 42 years.
“The biggest thing I’ve ever done is caught a fish and know you’ve got somebody who’s the best in the world. It’s pretty cool,” Thoemke said.
At Afton City Hall, City Administrator Ron Moorse already has a welcome home celebration for Diggins in the works. He says her going gold isn’t the only exciting news now that their tiny town is in the international spotlight.
“Afton, we’re being known nationally and I don’t know internationally. So it’s just fun to hear that when you watch and all the sudden there’s Jessie saying ‘I love Afton.’ I mean what more could you ask for,” Moorse said.
Lake Elmo Park Reserve is where Jessie trained with her Stillwater High School cross country team. Diggins’ high school ski coach, neighbor and friend Kris Hansen still trains with her when she’s in town.
“I feel just absolutely thrilled because Jessie is not only an amazing athlete but just a fantastic person. She embodies all the things that you want in a role model for a child, and so as her high school coach, I couldn’t be happier for her,” Hansen said.
Diggins made the team as a seventh grader and skid with them until she graduated.
“They made good luck cards for Jessie and a video and I just think it’s so inspiring for those kids to see somebody succeed at this level and say this is from my community, this is from my state. They’re doing my sport,” Hansen said.
Coach Hansen also said ironically, a lot of Norwegians and Swedes have followed Diggins on Twitter because they’re so excited to see Americans finally move into the spotlight in cross country skiing at the Olympics.