History is about to be made in Oslo, Norway over the weekend. For the first time ever, the women will race the 50k Holmenkollen - the same distance as the men - on the World Cup circuit.
Based off the historic equal-distance vote by the Federation of International Skiing (FIS) in 2022, a notion was put forward to have both men and women race the same distance on the World Cup circuit. Following a vote during the FIS Cross Country committee meeting in May of 2022, the decision passed, allowing both genders to race the same distances in the 10k, 20k, skiathlon and 50k.
Now, with the end of the World Cup season around the corner, the highly anticipated 50k Holmenkollen for both men and women is on deck.
The Holmenkollen 50k cross country ski race dates back to 1888. Traditionally, the men who lined up on the start line would smoke pipes to increase their lung capacity to give them a better chance of finishing the grueling 31 mile race.
Set up in the city of Oslo, the Holmenkollen is one of the oldest and hardest ski races in the world. With tens of thousands of fans lining the course, many camping out for days to capture a good spot, the course is far from easy. Skiers will climb over 6,000 feet of elevation throughout the 50k; the course has the most vertical gain of any Olympic or World Cup course in history.
As the former Oslo sport director said in 2011, "Everyone in cross country skiing community will see the winner of the 50k as the toughest skier of the season."
This year, four women will represent the United States on the start line and make history in doing so. 2023 World Champion and three-time Olympic medalist Jessie Diggins will lead the team, along with teammates Rosie Brennan, Hailey Swirbul and Alayna Sonnesyn.
"I am so so excited to finally get to ski a 50k race!" said Diggins. "I have been waiting my entire career for this race and we finally get a chance at the Holmenkollen. I am just so excited to ski my heart out and finally get a chance to ski this incredible and iconic race."
Earning two medals in the 2023 World Championships, including a historic gold in the 10k skate and team bronze with Julia Kern, Diggins has had a very successful 2022-23 season. Since November, Diggins has been on the podium seven times and after her 14th World Cup win in Davos, Switzerland, she became the most decorated U.S. cross country skier of all time.
With Diggins are teammates Brennan, Swirbul and Sonnesyn. Brennan is a two-time Olympian, secured a career-best fourth place in the 2022-23 Tour de Ski, has represented her country at five World Championships and just days ago secured a World Championships fifth place in the 30k classic.
"I couldn't be more excited for the first women's 50k on the World Cup this weekend. It definitely is a little intimidating - 50k is far but it's also a great challenge," said Brennan. "I am really excited to have the journey out there with the whole women's pack and I think it will be a really exciting race. Equal distance has been such a cool experience to be a part of and so has been showing all the young girls out there that we are as capable as all the boys. I can't wait to give it a go this weekend!"
Swirbul, who is coming fresh off her best-ever World Championships result with an 18th place finish in the 30k, swept all three races at the 2022-23 National Championships and represented the USA at the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games.
"Guess who gets to race the Holmenkollen 50k in just a few days?! The women!" said Swirbul. "I am so stoked to be a part of it, our team is going to slay and it will be such a memorable experience to be a part of the first 50k for women on the World Cup. Let's go!"
Sonnesyn rounds the four U.S. athletes competing on Sunday. Sonnesyn had her first World Cup start in 2019 and has raced in several since. This season, Sonnesyn skied to her career-best result in the 20k skate pursuit, finishing fifth place based off of time, at the Tour de Ski and will enter her last World Cup of the season by first making history on the 50k start line.