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Sochi next stop for Afton ski phenom Jessie Diggins

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Jessie Diggins
Cross-country skier Jessie Diggins poses for a portrait during the USOC Media Summit ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on October 2, 2013 in Park City, Utah.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images, file

When Jessie Diggins attended Stillwater High School she was a force to be reckoned with on the cross country ski trails, where she won three state championships. After graduating in 2010, she took her skills to the world stage, winning five U.S. championships and last year won gold in the world championships. 

Diggins is training this week with the U.S. ski team in the Italian alps before heading to Sochi for the Winter Olympics, which open Feb. 7. She spoke with MPR News' Tom Crann about her experiences.

Tom Crann: Your training regimen — tell us what it's like with just two weeks to go before the Olympics. What are you going through?

Jessie Diggins: It's been really exciting, the pre-Olympic camp. Everyone of course is getting really amped up and excited about the opening ceremonies and everything that's to come.

The cool thing is right now the training is actually easier than it's been all year because this is when we're finally starting to let our bodies rest. We're tapering and now that we're resting, our bodies are rebuilding. But it's kind of funny, we just have so much energy, we're trying not to hop around the hotel.

TC: You grew up in Afton, Minn. skiing with your parents. What are your earliest Minnesota skiing memories?

JD: I feel so lucky to have a family that is super into being outdoors and being active. So before I could even walk my dad used to put me in his backpack and he and my mom would go out skiing and I used to pull on his hair and say, "Mush, dad! Mush! Go faster!" 

And then as soon as I could walk we signed up for the Minnesota Youth Ski League. We were part of the Willow River branch and every Sunday afternoon we'd strap on our skis and go skiing. I loved it. It was such a cool introduction to the sport because I made so many friends, we were out playing games, playing tag, we would go sledding afterwards. I thought it was awesome.

TC: How old were you when you first realized the Olympics could be a target for you?

JD: When I was in junior high and high school I always thought it would be so cool to go to the Olympics. But when I was watching the opening ceremony of the 2010 Olympics on TV I thought, you know, this could happen. I could be in the next one. I'll be old enough, I'll have trained enough and hopefully I'll be experienced in racing well enough. Maybe I could be walking into this next one.

TC: What have you heard about what you're going to be facing in Sochi — the Nordic ski courses there. Are they tricky?

JD: Oh, yeah. They're some of the hardest courses in the world. The skate course especially has a five and a half minute climb in it. And to give you an idea what that looks like - I don't know if you're familiar with the Afton Alps venue, but when I did intervals there this fall, it took me four minutes to bound, which is like running with poles, from the very bottom to the very top of Afton Alps. So this climb in Sochi takes five and a half minutes. That's a picture of the courses we're going to be facing. 

It's going to be tough. But I think that's also a really awesome thing for our team because we have a bunch of really tough and really strong girls and I think we're ready to tackle those courses. So, we looked at the course profile and we said, OK, bring it on.

You can follow Jessie Diggins' journey on Twitter and Instagram.