When Jessie Diggins grew up in Minnesota, her only access to World Cup cross-country skiing was on VHS tapes her dad found at a local ski shop months after the races took place.

This weekend, Minnesotans can take a short drive to witness the first World Cup in the U.S. in 23 years.

The Stifel Loppet Cup will be in Minneapolis — 25 miles west of Diggins’ hometown, Afton — and at the same venue — Wirth Park — as Diggins’ most recent domestic race 13 years ago.

Coverage airs Sunday on CNBC at 12:30 p.m. ET (sprints from Saturday) and NBC at 4 p.m. (10km races from earlier Sunday). All coverage also streams on NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock for subscribers.

Organizers expect about 15,000 spectators per day. The event is six years in the making.

In 2018, after Diggins and Kikkan Randall teamed to win the first U.S. Olympic cross-country skiing title, Diggins’ agent asked if she had any requests as a newly crowned gold medalist.

“Do you want to go to Disney World? Do you want a car?” Diggins recalled. “I was like, ‘I want a World Cup in Minneapolis,’ and he was like, ‘Oh, that’s a big ask.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, but that’s the only thing I want.'”

Diggins got her wish when Minneapolis was added to the World Cup for a March 2020 stop. But, five days before the event, it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then last February, officials announced Minneapolis was rescheduled for the 2023-24 World Cup season. Two weeks later, Diggins became the first U.S. cross-country skier to win an individual world championship.

Now, Diggins, 32, enters her first home World Cup ranked No. 1 in the world. She’s on pace for arguably the best World Cup season ever for a U.S. cross-country skier.

That was unfathomable when Diggins starred in the Minnesota Youth Ski League two decades ago.

“At that time, (cross-country) skiers from the United States did not end up at the top of the podium at the Olympics or at World Cups,” said Kris Hansen, who coached Diggins on the Stillwater High School team from seventh grade through 12th grade. “So I thought it was great because she enjoyed it, but I never imagined that she would achieve the level of success that she has.”

Diggins’ first memory of the sport was when she was small enough to fit in her dad’s backpack. Her parents, Clay and Deb, toted her as they skied on trails along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. She yelled “Mush!” urging her dad to go faster.

As she wrote in her book, “Brave Enough,” Diggins joined the Minnesota Youth Ski League at age 3 and soon became motivated by a program called “Medals for Miles.” The skier who covered the most distance over the season was given a medal. Diggins won it at least once, her mom said.

Jessie Diggins

Jessie Diggins

By age 10, she had completed all six levels of the youth league, impressively never having to repeat a level.

She made her high school varsity team debut in seventh grade when she was called up from the JV to fill in for a sick skier. Hansen remembers Diggins winning one of the two races that day.

The last race of Diggins’ high school career was a classic: a finishing sprint duel with future Olympic teammate Anne Rabon (née Hart) at the 2010 state championships. Rabon’s mom posted it on YouTube.

Diggins and Rabon were later bridesmaids in each other’s weddings.

“She was a high school version of herself as she is now,” Rabon said. “Everyone grows and your skills get better, but she was the same combo of grit and glitter that she is now.”

Years later, Diggins would share that she was dealing with an eating disorder in her senior year of high school.

After graduating, Diggins checked into The Emily Program, a national leader in eating disorder treatment, just west of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

In September 2023, Diggins shared that “after 12 really great years of health,” she’d once again struggled with her eating disorder that summer, working through it with the help of her medical team, ski team, family and friends.

“The whole reason I shared this summer was to help people,” she said in November. “I don’t regret sharing my whole story and how I’ve had a bit of a relapse this summer, but it has been challenging at times. It hasn’t always been easy, and in sharing my story, I have a lot of feedback from a lot of people that it helped them to feel less alone.”

As this season began in November, Diggins competed with “The Emily Program” written across her headband, as she has for years.

“I race with my heart on my sleeve, and it’s important for me to also wear my past and my present out in the open, because this shouldn’t be something I ever have to hide,” she posted.

Diggins credits her Minnesota high school experience for teaching her sportsmanship. When Diggins won a prep race, she’d immediately pop off her skis, go back on the course and find teammates to encourage.

“(Hansen) would say, ‘Before you look at the results, name three things you did well, and three things you can improve on,'” said Diggins, whose high school race suit was framed and put in the Stillwater team wax cabin. “It was all about the process. It was like, did you have fun? What went well? What did you learn? It wasn’t just about winning. It was about being a good teammate, first and foremost.”

That attitude has been evident as Diggins racked up an American record 20 cross-country World Cup wins over the last eight years.

She highlights other Americans’ success on social media and regularly praises team wax technicians in interviews. That appreciation was reciprocated at last year’s world championships, when a group of wax techs darted out to the course to cheer en route to her historic gold.

Diggins’ passion for hometown competition has been evident her entire career.

In 2011, she made her senior world championships debut in front of tens of thousands of people in Oslo, Norway, before flying back to Minnesota for the junior nationals four days later. Diggins swept her three individual events at Wirth Park, and became a World Cup fixture after that.

The U.S. has never hosted top-level international cross-country skiing during her career, so her last 300 races have all been abroad, and her last time competing on home soil was those junior nationals in Minneapolis 13 years ago.

Yet she has still made an impact back home. The Minnesota Youth Ski League doubled its number of clubs (now more than 60) and kids (now more than 4,000) since Diggins and Randall won Olympic gold in 2018.

“Every single year, she made time to come out to one of our practices and talk to the kids and run through some drills and cheer them on,” Hansen said of the high school team, which Hansen coached through 2021. “Every single year she prioritized our team.”

Sydney Peterson was one of those kids. Peterson joined the Stillwater High School team a decade after Diggins and, like many, has roller skied with Diggins in Afton.

Two years ago, Peterson won a medal of every color at the Paralympics. That matched Diggins’ Olympic medal collection.

“Jessie’s been a great influence on not only the Stillwater community but Minnesota skiing as a whole,” Peterson said, “and has definitely inspired me to become a better skier.”

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