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SOCHI SCRIBBLINGS: The Olympic Workout

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Jessie Diggins (Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski Team) Jessie Diggins (Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski Team)
SOCHI, Russia -

The Olympic Workout

I woke up to emails from friends asking me what's wrong with Bob Costas's eye. It's a reminder that even though I have the unique and amazing privilege to cover the Olympics, I see very little of what everyone at home is experiencing. I was at the cross-country venue this afternoon - where Vermonter Liz Stephen, Minnesotan Jessie Diggins (who now trains in Stratton), and Alaskans Sadie Bjornsen and Holly Brooks were competing in the 15km skiathlon (adapted from the pursuit). So I missed seeing American slopestyler Sage Kotsenburg win the first gold medal of the Games.

Likewise, I haven't seen Bob Costas either and had no idea he had become a bespectacled squinter. After googling "Bob Costas eye" this morning, I learned that he has an eye infection, so I'm guessing pink eye. While people back home might now think that Sochi is a center of disease and destruction-as well as ongoing construction-he could have caught pink eye just as easily in NYC (as I once did). There's also a cold circulating among the press, and I know for a fact that it did originate in Sochi (yes, on the airplane earlier this week, I was Typhoid Mary transporting viruses worldwide).

The Olympics is a tough place to be ill, and I wonder how less fit journalists manage to cover the Games. It takes patience and endurance to get to the venues. Although all mountain cluster venues are in close proximity-I can see the Rosa Khutor downhill course across the Mzymta River valley from the Laura cross-country and biathlon venue-it takes a couple of hours to get from one to the other on a planes-trains-and-automobiles-type odyssey. Here, it's more like a gondola-walk-bus-cable car-walk-minibus-walk odyssey, with many wrong turns (who knew the press center for cross-country was at the biathlon venue?). Every day, I walk three to five miles carrying a 20-pound backpack.

No complaints though! It's always worth the effort, especially today when two cross-country skiers with Vermont connections made the top 12. Jessie Diggins, who trains with Stratton's SMS T2 team, jumped from 27th after the 7.5 km classic leg of the skiathlon to finish eighth. Her focus at these Olympic Games is the women's 4x5km relay next Saturday-her biggest goal for years, she said. With her pink-blue-and-blonde ponytail bobbing (dyed to be Patriotic, even though the red turned out pink and matched her Sochi bib better than her starred race suit), she said she had hoped for a top 20 in the skiathlon, not a top 10.

Both her parents, who cheered her along one of the course's steep climbs, and her SMS T2 teammates fired her up for the race.

"My teammates made this awesome video that they sent to us where they rewrote the words to a song, and they were dancing and lip-synching and it was so cool," she gushed. "The training situation in the U.S. has been awesome. We keep the stoke level high all summer and all fall. And it's always fun. And that always helps. If you enjoy what you're doing, then you're going to go fast."

Liz Stephen from East Montpelier was close behind Diggins in 12th, having moved up from 31st at the transition.

"My last Olympics, I think my best result was like a 50th or 48th or something," she said (she was 48th in the 10km freestyle race in Vancouver in 2010). "To start off the Games in 12th, I'm really happy with it. I'm hoping for more as the Games go on for sure. But I'm really happy with today. To have such a deep field of girls who can all be in the top 10 or top five every day, I couldn't be part of a better team."

Stephen compared the climbs on the Olympic cross-country course-some of the steepest hills the women have ever encountered (winner Marit Bjoergen was clocked at 60 kph going down one of the hills)-to the Climb to the Castle, the annual rollerski race up New York's Whiteface toll road, with an average 8 percent grade. Stephen has dominated the race the past few years.

She also said the climbs were like skiing up one of Vermont's alpine trails-though hopefully not Killington's Outer Limits or Stowe's Goat.

Next up for Diggins is the sprint race on Tuesday; for Stephen, the 10km classic race on Thursday. They also both hope to compete for the U.S. in the 4x5km relay.

Until then, they should stay away from Bob Costas. And probably from me as well, although with a cocktail of Advil Cold & Sinus, nasal decongestant, and a Z pack, I'm back to myself. And enjoying the Olympic workout.

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