After weeks of euphoria, heartbreak, drama, and all the other things that come with intense sporting competition, the Winter Olympics will come to a close on Sunday. If you're getting up early for the grand closing, keep an eye on the Winter Olympics' Closing Ceremony U.S. flag bearer Jessie Diggins, the cross-country skier who will be leading the U.S. delegation into the big event.
The country's flag bearer is chosen by the Team USA members, and this year, they voted for Diggins to lead them. “This is such an incredible honor for me,” Diggins said in the Team USA press release. “I’m really humbled and moved that the athletes voted for me. It’s so inspiring to feel the support and cheering from everyone. ... I have so much respect and admiration for everybody here and am beyond honored to be able to lead us out of these Games.”
The honor caps off a stellar performance for Diggins in PyeongChang. Diggins, who is 26 years old, captured gold in the women's cross-country skiing in the team sprint freestyle race alongside teammate Kikkan Randall, the first-ever women's medal for the U.S. in the sport.
According to Slate, their historic win was unexpected, except, perhaps, by Diggins and Randall themselves; the U.S., after all, has a disappointing record in Olympic cross-country races, having scored zero medals in 42 years. Other than that, Diggins also scored four other top-six finishes in PyeongChang, according to the Team USA website.
Their gold in cross-country skiing was a stunning win, and Randall told NBC Olympics that it still didn't "feel real." She added, "It’s what I’ve been working on for 20 years and with this team, for the last five years and … wow."
Following her win, Diggins has used her elevated profile to encourage other women in sports. She told NBC Olympics:
I want [women] to know it's OK to be girly with your sparkles and your glitter, and it's also really OK to be very competitive and to be totally fierce on the race course and to be able to push your body hard and not worry about what it looks like. Just think about what your body can do. And I really want that message to come across because I think it's really important to be comfortable in your own skin, and see sports as something that lifts you up and empowers you.
Diggins, who hails from Afton, Minnesota, will be the first cross-country skier to be selected as the Team USA flag bearer for the closing ceremony. And after the Winter Olympics ends, she'll return home to a hero's welcome. The city will declare a "Jessie Diggins Day" after settling on a proper date, and a local ice cream shop has plans to introduce a flavor named after the Olympic gold medalist, Pioneer Press reported.
By leading the U.S. team into the closing ceremony, Diggins will be one of 16 Americans ever to do so. And it seemed like an honor she didn't quite believe was real, either.
In a photo posted on Instagram on Friday, Diggins wrote, "After being told that no, this wasn’t a mistake, and no, I wasn’t being pranked...I still don’t know what to say! There’s a lot of people who deserve this more than I do, and I know this because I’ve spent the last few weeks in the village having my mind blown watching so many brave and inspiring moments - both on and off the competition field."
To her nearly 80,000 followers on Instagram, Diggins added, "Thanks for believing in this lil lady because I’m sure feeling the love right back!"