Jessie Diggins is ready to break new ground. Again.

“I like to run very slowly, like 10-minute miles,” Jessie Diggins said this fall as she donned a vest filled with bottled water and snacks before a morning run in Central Park.

A penchant for “slow” isn’t what you’d expect from an Olympic and world champion cross-country skier, even when she’s on the slopes. Diggins mostly makes a living chasing speed across the snow, but that was still a month before the start of the Nordic World Cup season in Ruka, Finland on Friday.

Diggins was in New York for the US Ski and Snowboard Association’s annual gala, where she was one of the main attractions.

That’s what happens when you’re part of the duo that clinched the country’s 42-year cross-country medal drought in an epic finish at the 2018 Olympics, and then backed that up with two more medals at the Beijing Olympics last February. Diggins is better known as a sprinter than a distance specialist, but she won her second medal in Beijing – silver in the 30K – after food poisoning made it unclear if she would even make it to the start line. She pushed the pain away, as she often does in her sport, and focused on a medal. She said the race took weeks or maybe months to recover from but it was worth it.

Nine months later, Diggins began focusing on the upcoming season and building her core fitness. And such a slow, three-hour run in Central Park.

“Never too fast so you can’t have a conversation anymore,” she said.

Or conduct an interview.

She explained that she and her teammates spend so much time in intense training on rollerskis or cross-country skis that when they run or bike to build or maintain their fitness, they can take a break from their mind and just enjoy it. But when they’re with Diggins, they spend the time quizzing her – arguably the most successful cross-country skier the country has produced – about her training and racing techniques.

It’s part of an evolution for Diggins: from prodigy to seasoned veteran in a team that gets better every year and holds its own against the sport’s European powerhouses. For Diggins, the medals and championships and the covers of magazines have given her a platform to be heard on issues close to her heart.

She testified on Capitol Hill earlier this year about climate change posing an existential threat to her sport. As someone who has struggled with eating disorders, she takes every opportunity to talk about it too.

This season will provide another opportunity to spread a message close to her heart, which is women’s equality.

In May, the International Ski Federation voted to allow men and women to race the same distances in the World Cup.

Historically, women have competed shorter distances than men in the Olympics. For the interval start race, the women walked 10 kilometers versus 15 for the men. In the skiathlon, which combines freestyle and classic techniques, the women covered 15 kilometers and the men 30 kilometers. The longest races were 30 kilometers for women and 50 for men.

The new World Cup format includes individual races over 10, 20 and 50 kilometers.

“The main argument for voting equal distances was that there should be no question as to whether women are able to run the same distances as men, as they prove that they are already physically capable of doing so,” he said the association after the adoption of the measure with 57 percent of the votes.

During a conference call Monday, Diggins said the shorter distances than the men made her “feel like shit and really sad.”

“Turns out we’re okay,” she said jokingly. She and other women in her sport have long trained at distances of 50 kilometers and more.

But it won’t just be about showing off female physical prowess. “It sends a really important message” to girls, Diggins said.

The message: “You are absolutely capable of doing anything. If you train hard and work hard, you can do it.”

The change has prompted Diggins, the 2021 overall cross-country champion, to win the inaugural women’s 50K race.

She’ll need a fair bit of stamina to pull this off — and some speed too.

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