Two-time world cup cross-country sprint champion Kikkan Randall is positioned to make some big-time U.S. Olympic history in Sochi.
Going into the 2014 Winter Games, Team USA has won a grand total of one cross-country skiing medal. But Randall, a native of Anchorage, Alaska, who is making her fourth trip to the Winter Games, is hoping to rewrite history by not only becoming the first U.S. athlete since Bill Koch in 1976 to win an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing but the first American woman to medal in the Winter Games in the sport.
Since an eighth-place finish in the women’s individual sprint at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Randall, 31, has virtually dominated the world in sprints. She has won the last two world cup championships and in 2011 finished third. She teamed up with teammate Jessie Diggins to win the gold medal in the team sprint at the 2013 World Championships — a first for U.S. women.
The Olympic cross-country events begin Saturday Feb. 8 with the women’s skiathlon. The skiathlon consists of double 7.5-kilometer races in which the classic technique of skiing is used for one race and then the freestyle technique is used for the second 7.5 kilometers. The time between races when the skiers are changing equipment is included in their final time.
The women’s 10-kilometer classic race will be held Feb. 13, followed by the men’s 15-kilometer classic Feb. 14, the women’s and men’s relay races that weekend on Feb. 15 and 16, and women’s and men’s sprint team classic races Feb. 19, women’s 30-kilometer freestyle mass start Feb. 22, and men’s 50-kilometer freestyle mass start on Feb. 23.
The big moment for Randall, however, arrives Feb. 11, when the women’s sprints are held at Laura Cross-Country Ski & Biathlon Center. The qualifications, semifinals and finals will all be completed that day.
Although Randall is a medal contender in more than one event, the sprint is her specialty. And she is better at it than almost anybody in the world. The sprint races use the freestyle technique, which is also Randall’s strong point. Skiers will go around a 1.3-kilometer loop. The finals will feature six racers (the top two from each of the two semifinals, plus the next two fastest racers).
“This is what I hoped for all along, to head into an Olympics knowing that I could be a strong medal contender for sure in the sprint, but now also knowing that I have some shots at a relay medal,” Randall told TeamUSA.org. “And when my distance is on, I can be on the podium, too.”
In this year’s world cup sprint standings, Randall trails only Denise Herrmann of Germany.
A medal in the individual sprint would pump up Randall even more for the Feb. 19 team sprint. On the heels of winning a world championship in team sprints, Randall and Diggins will be the skiers to beat in Sochi. Diggins is a two-time U.S. sprint champion.
Randall’s best Olympic finish actually came in the team sprint. She finished sixth in that event four years ago in Vancouver.
And medaling in the team relay isn’t out of the question. At the 2013 World Championships, Randall, Diggins, Sadie Bjornsen and Liz Stephen placed fourth. All are members of Team USA in Sochi.