Most sporting champions punctuate their victories with parades, cereal-box portraits or ads exclaiming “I’m going to Disney World!” So why has Olympic gold-medal skier Jessie Diggins gone from carrying the U.S. flag at last month’s closing ceremony in South Korea to slogging through mud season in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom?
Diggins, a Minnesota native who trains in Stratton, and fellow team sprint winner Kikkan Randall are topping the bill at the 200-competitor U.S. Super Tour Finals over the weekend and continuing through Wednesday at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center.
“They gave us quite a historic winter, folks,” said event announcer Peter Graves, an East Thetford resident and Olympic regular, who also worked the public-address-system in Pyeongchang.
Diggins and Randall’s win was the first Olympic gold in U.S. cross-country history and the only other American medal in the sport since Vermonter Bill Koch snagged silver in 1976.
The two recently had a whirlwind day in New York City, appearing on television’s “Live with Kelly and Ryan” and scoring tickets to the sold-out Broadway musical “Hamilton.” But the Super Tour is the first post-victory appearance where they could interact with fans.
“Most places we go, no one has a clue who we are,” Randall said.
But they’re treated like rock stars along the ski trails of this tiny “you can’t get there from here” town, whose population of 1,206 has seemingly doubled with the event.
“It’s definitely different,” Diggins said between nonstop requests for hotoos and autographs.
Diggins smiled and signed as a longtime organizer of “Fast and Female” youth-empowerment programs, which the U.S. women’s cross-country team put on in Stratton after the 2014 Sochi Olympics and in Craftsbury last week.
“Stay in sports, my little sparkly friends,” Diggins wrote local participants on her Instagram page. “It makes you Powerful. Gritty. Resilient. Brave. Compassionate. Strong. It makes you feel alive! Proud to be an ambassador for @fastandfemale because nothing makes me happier than seeing all these girls psyched to be outside, getting their sweat on!”
Other Vermont athletes are involved in similar programs for boys as well as youth interested in biathlon — a sport promoted by Olympic sisters Emily Dreissigacker and Hannah Dreissigacker, whose parents run the Craftsbury Outdoor Center.
“Part of having Olympians around,” said their mother, Judy Geer, “is that kids think of them as normal people and that participating is much more possible.”
The nonprofit center’s Green Racing Project boasts not only the two Dreissigackers but also 2018 Olympic peers Susan Dunklee, Clare Egan, Kaitlynn Miller, Caitlin Patterson and Ida Sargent.
Over the weekend, the facility also attracted inspiration from other parts of the state.
Putney resident John Caldwell, a 1952 Olympian who literally wrote “The Cross-Country Ski Book,” cheered as part of a three-generation family contingent supporting the 89-year-old’s grandson Patrick Caldwell of the Upper Valley and granddaughter Sophie Caldwell of Peru.
Three-time Olympian Liz Stephen of East Montpelier wore a yellow “Fun Leader” vest and rainbow tutu in honor of her coming retirement from the sport.
And former Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith from nearby Morristown displayed solidarity by trading his suit for head-to-toe ski gear.
The Super Tour is scheduled to run races in Craftsbury through Wednesday, with more information available at its website, supertourfinals.com.
“Who knows,” Randall said amid dozens of young spectators, “how many of these kids will end up being gold medalists later on?”