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State leaders dig Olympic champion Diggins

The smile remains weeks after Afton, Minn., native Jessie Diggins won the first American women's gold medal in Olympic cross-country skiing. She shows off her medal Thursday, April 12, 2018, hours after returning to Minnesota for the first time since the Olympics. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 5
Olympic gold medal winner Jessie Diggins stands for a long ovation Thursday, April 12, 2018, from Minnesota House members and staffers. She wore the medal she received after becoming the first American woman to win in Olympic cross-country skiing. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 5
Olympic cross-country skiing champion Jessie Diggins is center of attention in front of the Minnesota House Thursday, April 12, 2018. With her are Speaker Kurt Daudt of Crown, left, and Rep. Tony Jergens of Cottage Grove. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 5
Olympic gold medal winner Jessie Diggins of Afton, Minn., listens as Rep. Tony Jurgens on Thursday, April 12, 2018, reads a resolution honoring her accomplishments. Don Davis / Forum News Service4 / 5
Under the watchful eye of Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, Olympic cross-country skiing champion Jessie Diggins gavels in the state House Thursday, April 12, 2018. Don Davis / Forum News Service5 / 5

ST. PAUL — Jessie Diggins won a historic Olympic medal on Feb. 21, and Minnesota's leaders gave her a hero's welcome when she visited the "people's house."

Diggins, from Afton, landed back in Minnesota for the first time since she won the first Olympic medal of any American woman cross-country skier and hours later was in the Capitol on Thursday, April 12. Holding her medal next to her face, she said: "I am here to celebrate this and cross country skiing in Minnesota."

In her whirlwind tour, she talked to state leaders including Gov. Mark Dayton, gaveled the Minnesota House into session, heard a House resolution read honoring her and promoted her dream of holding a world cup cross-country skiing event in Minnesota.

On Saturday, she will be the focus of a 10 a.m. parade in Stillwater, along with the city's current high school ski champions. The parade will go on snow or shine. Diggins said she might have to wear skis in the parade, given forecasts that say a foot of snow is possible.

"We live in Minnesota," Diggins said. "It's supposed to snow."

With her sister Mackenzie and parents Clay and Deb, Diggins took in the Capitol proceedings, the gold medal never leaving her sight and a smile never leaving her face.

With the enthusiasm Olympic fans saw in her during the South Korea games, she talked to leaders and common people like they were friends.

One of her goals is to bring a world cup event to Theodore Wirth Regional Park in Minneapolis.

John Munger of The Loppet Foundation said the event would bring 100 men and 100 women skiers to Minnesota, perhaps in 2020. After just two weeks of work, he said, half of the needed $1.2 million has been raised.

"We are one of the hotbeds of cross-country skiing in the world," he said, but Minnesota only has hosted one World Cup events, 1987 at Giants' Ridge in Biwabik.

Munger said Diggins' Olympic win has inspired many Minnesotans.

Diggins has a personal reason to attract the event to Minnesota. She said she has raced in 150 World Cup events, but "not a single one has been in the United States."

Up to 100,000 spectators attend the events, she added, although 30,000 is more common.

Her legislator, Rep. Tony Jurgens, R-Cottage Grove, introduced a bill Thursday to direct the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission to support the effort. He said his legislation does not provide any state money for the event, but that could change.

"I believe state involvement could help the plan cross the finish line," Jurgens said, and Diggins' win gives the effort momentum.

Diggins said her life has changed since the Olympics.

"I am being recognized on airplanes now," she said. "Wow. People know what cross-country skiing is."

The resolution honoring Diggins, which Jurgens read to the full House, pointed out that she finished in the top six of her four Olympic events before winning the women's team sprint freestyle with Kikkan Randall by 0.19 of a second.

Since the Olympics, Diggins has finished high in several races and ended the season in second place in the overall world cup rankings.

Diggins still calls Afton home, but much of her training is in Vermont.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.