As Kikkan Randall rounded the last corner in the final of today’s rollerski sprint at the Blink festival in Sandnes, Norway, she was in perfect position to go for the win – and she began revving up for dash to the line.
But the American, who won the Sprint Cup on last season’s World Cup circuit, was on pavement, not snow, and she was on matched rollerskis, not her own equipment. All of that added up to a bobble that probably cost her the victory.
“I came off the final turn in second, ready to make a move, and I don’t know whether I hit something or just pushed my skis wrong, but my ski kind of skidded out a couple of times,” Randall said in an interview by phone. “I skidded out once and I went and pushed on it again and it did it again, so I kind of stood up, thinking maybe something was wrong with the ski. I realized that it looked still intact, so I started sprinting again, but I had lost all my momentum.”
She wasn’t completely out of the race: although Randall ultimately finished sixth, or last in the final, her time was only 1.7 seconds behind winner Maiken Caspersen Falla or Norway and was the same as the time listed for fifth-place Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, also of Norway.
For Randall, that only underscored what might have been.
“It went really well until those final 150 meters,” she said. “I was disappointed to have been in a good position and then just not able to make out with a finish on the podium, but that’s the way it goes.”
Throughout the festival, both Randall and teammate Liz Stephen have said that the matched rollerskis, which are faster than the ones they usually train on, took some getting used to. After being so close to the win today, Randall said that in the future, she’ll make sure she’s comfortable on the equipment provided by organizers at events such as this one.
“I definitely think that I could use a little more time on the skis,” Randall said. “Those last 100 meters just weren’t working out for me that well today. I think a little bit of that is just balance and getting comfortable. So if I do this again I’ll maybe prepare a little bit more ahead of time.”
Despite the disappointment, Randall seemed to be happy to be in the thick of things.
“I didn’t let it hold me back,” she said of the unfamiliar rollerskis. “I definitely went for it, and skied aggressive, and made good moves at different points.”
That was something that Stephen was working on. The distance specialist “didn’t have a lot of expectations coming in,” but wanted to try to ski like a sprinter.
“I’m still learning about how to ski aggressive like Kikkan does, especially when there’s pavement under you,” Stephen said.
The Vermont native was knocked out in the quarterfinals, but she got plenty of head-to-head action nonetheless. She was almost three seconds out of third place in her heat, but finished fifth, just a tenth of a second behind Tone Sundvor of Norway and barely ahead of Celia Aymonier of France.
For Stephen, who has long had a goal of qualifying for heats on the World Cup, it was good practice for when she finally does make that leap. In fact, she thought that the Blink sprint was even tougher than racing on snow.
“Everything is going to be way easier on the World Cup now in terms of being aggressive after doing this,” Stephen said. “It’s easy to be tentative when there’s big consequences if you fall – not really, but road rash hurts quite a bit.”
She would like to think that without the pavement, she would have been closer to making the semifinals.
“If we were able to do this race with snow tomorrow, I think I would be a lot more aggressive than I usually am in the winter,” she explained. “So I think it’s really good for me, [to prepare] for the wintertime.”
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Randall wasn’t the only favorite to encounter bad luck in the final. Norwegian sprinter Oeystein Pettersen, who had won the men’s 15 k the day before, broke a pole and finished 46 seconds back.
“Things didn’t go as planned today,” he tweeted after the race.
Instead, it was Switzerland’s Christoph Eigenmann who took the surprise win in a heat filled with Norwegians and in front of a loud, biased crowd. The three-time Olympian he has only one World Cup victory to his name – a stage win in a sprint in Munich which was the first stage of the very first Tour de Ski, back in 2006. He’s appeared in a single sprint final in regular World Cup action.
In Sandnes, Eigenmann’s victory was slim indeed: he edged Norway’s Ragnar Bragvin Andresen by just a tenth of a second. Pal Goldberg, also of Norway, finished 0.3 seconds back and Eigenmann’s teammate Joeri Kinschi 0.4.
With Randall out of the picture, Falla had a comparatively easy victory. It was still tight, as teammate Heidi Weng crossed the line 0.4 seconds later for second and was closely followed by Laurien Van Der Graff of Switzerland in third.