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Randall Gives Boost to Canada’s Female Talent Squad

Kikkan Randall at the Ontario High Performance Camp in Barrie, Ontario

Since the Olympics, Kikkan Randall has had anything but a relaxed spring and summer. Her activities have included the International Ski Federation (FIS) Congress in Turkey, a visit to Norway to spend time training with Marit Bjoergen, and a three week training camp in New Zealand.

Randall’s latest stop has finally brought her a little closer to home. While the Ontario High Performance Camp in Barrie, Ontario, was still far from Alaska, at least she was on the right continent. Randall had the unique opportunity to make a visit to Hardwood Hills Ski Club in Barrie, Ontario, in August to check out some of Canada’s most promising developing athletes at the Ontario High Performance Camp.

In addition to having some of Canada’s best junior athletes present, the camp was billed as part of Cross Country Canada’s (CCC) newest development initiative aimed at keeping young females in the sport, dubbed the Female Talent Squad (FTS). For Randall, the draw of getting to work with an enthusiastic group of female athletes was a big one.

“We need to keep more females in the sport at the elite junior and senior levels,” said Randall in a recent interview with FasterSkier, “so I am happy to do whatever I can to inspire and encourage girls to go for it.”

Kikkan Randall works with Norah Bonsteel of Team Hardwood. Photo, Graham Longford

Randall was connected to the event through her husband, Jeff Ellis, a native of nearby Orangeville, Ontario, as well as through Kateri Mills, the Ontario Provincial Team Coach.

Mills recognized that the couple might be making a trip home at some point during the summer, and it turned out that the camp coincided with the end of Randall’s trip to New Zealand–allowing her to squeeze it into her busy schedule. The price was right too: The Canadians paid for both Randall’s and Ellis’ airfare to and from the camp.

In addition to being a native of Southern Ontario, Ellis is also an international competitive cross country skier (he raced the 15 k free at the Canmore World Cup last February), and a former internationally competitive hurdler (he ran the 400-meter hurdles at the 1999 IAAF World Championships). Ellis also chipped in at the camp, with a presentation offering guidance on how athletes can market themselves.

The Talent Squad

CCC developed the FTS this spring in response to research that showed an inordinate number of girls dropping out of the sport. The young women named to the group were chosen based on their performances at the Canadian National Championships in Whitehorse, Yukon, this past March.

In order to build the talent squad, CCC used the aggregate ranking at Nationals, and it took into account athletes’ two best distance races, as well as consideration for those who were particularly strong sprinters. The result was a selection of 30 of Canada’s top female junior skiers.

Once selected to the team, an athlete is then matched with a mentor, who is then able to share their skiing experience, ranging from dietary concerns to educational opportunities, to how to financially support one’s career. The mentors contain a selection of prominent Canadian female athletes, both past and present. The list includes recently retired Olympic and World Championship medalist Sara Renner, retired Olympian Milaine Theriault, current Olympians and national team members Chandra Crawford and Dasha Gaiazova, as well as up-and-coming talents like Kate Brennan of the Alberta World Cup Academy.

Randall demonstrating technique

While not technically a FTS mentor, working closely with CCC and the Canadian National Ski Team (CNST) is nothing new for Randall. She described her relationship with the CNST as “great,” and she has even roomed with Perianne Jones, the CNST member, Olympian, and FTS mentor who also attended the camp.

“I’ve spent quite a bit of time training, racing and hanging out with the Canadians,” Randall said. “Perhaps because I’m married to one, I feel like an adopted member of the team.”

This past spring at the United States Ski and Snowboard Association meetings in Park City, Utah, a special group convened to discuss challenges facing women in cross-country skiing, but as of yet, American female skiers have not been targeted as directly as Canadian women, first with Chandra Crawford’s Fast and Female, and now the FTS.

“I definitely think that it’s very productive to have female-oriented parts of camps, or opportunities in addition to what’s already happening,” said Randall “I think there is still some value to being at the camps with the boys too, but making environments where the girls can feel open and have direct access to female role models is important for keeping females in the sport.”

“This concept of female-oriented camps, both for development and for elite athletes too, is something that I am personally interested in exploring, and [I] will be looking for opportunities to bring to the U.S. as well,” Randall said.

For a full list of athletes and mentors in the Female Talent Squad program, click here.

Video of the Female Talent Squad camp, and Kikkan Randall in action during the CCC Strength Test, couresty of Graham Longford.

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