Souhan: Schumacher’s surprise win, successful World Cup are another Minneapolis Miracle

For once, the chants of "U-S-A" at an international sporting event weren't just rallying cries.

Sunday at Wirth Park, they also served as a geolocation service.

For the first time since 2001, World Cup ski races were held in America. Thanks largely to Twin Cities native and Olympic hero Jessie Diggins, they were held at Theodore Wirth Park, with racers' bibs reading "Minneapolis" and an international crowd lining the course and hills.

This was the rare event that succeeded by existing. Then the races started, and the weekend surpassed even a feral marketer's most hopeful dreams.

Sunday morning, Gus Schumacher, a 23-year-old from Alaska, won the men's 10-kilometer freestyle race, becoming the first American man to win a World Cup distance event since 1983.

He said the crowd was so loud he couldn't hear himself breathe. Diggins and a few of her competitors called it the loudest crowd they've ever witnessed for a ski race.

Schumacher was a long shot, and he acted like one in victory, expressing joy and surprise. He sat in the race leader's chair after taking an early lead, and kept waiting to be evicted. History said he would be, but that kind of history was irrelevant this weekend.

"I've spent about 30 seconds in the leader's chair," he said. "So when I went into the leader's chair, I thought, 'Sweet,' I've got to get on that thing. But I didn't think I was going to win the race.

"I was just, like, amazed, and then couldn't believe it, and my teammates kept validating it by saying … you might win this thing."

A colorful phrase was edited out of the above sentence, and more editing was required as Schumacher continued to add not-safe-for-workplace adjectives.

"I don't think my grandma will mind," he said with a smile.

She was at Wirth Park along with other Schumacher family members, to see a confluence of unexpected history — an American winning a World Cup race in America. Schumacher is only the third American man to ever win a World Cup race, joining Bill Koch in 1983 and Simeon Hamilton in 2013. He entered the weekend ranked 22nd overall in the World Cup standings and 18th in distance events.

"I don't think it's a coincidence," Schumacher said. "This is happening because of what Jessie's been building around the U.S.

"And not just Jessie. But Jessie brings up the whole team, and the whole team feeds this whole community. It all works off each other. And individual successes help bring up everyone. To see that come together here, with 20,000 fans and the best atmosphere at the World Cup I've ever been in, is amazing."

Schumacher noted that most World Cup races occur in Europe when most Americans are sleeping. "It's just not feasible for Americans to watch," he said. "To be able to do this here, in the sun, with it being relatively warm, and with so many people here, is amazing."

Earlier, he had yelled to the crowd, "This has been the best day ever! Thank you, Minneapolis!"

With a little luck, Diggins and the Loppet Foundation pulled off a true Minneapolis Miracle.

During one of the warmest and driest winters in Minnesota history, they enjoyed an ideal weekend — just enough snow arrived just in time to glisten, like Diggins' signature biodegradable glitter, beneath beautiful sunny skies.

This event felt quaint and local, yet it was undeniably international. It featured a hero's return home, a popular upset victory, passionate and knowledgeable fans, and a venue that highlighted Minneapolis' beautiful parks.

Diggins took third in her race on Sunday, a strong finish allowing her to celebrate, from the podium, the event she made possible.

"I'm not sharing the spotlight — it's him," she said of Schumacher. "This is his day, and I want everyone to know that."

Schumacher and Diggins raved about what they described as the "family" atmosphere among the American men's and women's teams.

Diggins has established her place in cross-country skiing history. Schumacher's victory means that American men have reached the podium three times in the same season. "I've never been more proud," Diggins said.

She said that a lot this weekend.