RYBINSK, Russia (Dec. 16) – Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, AK), who posted the first U.S. women's World Cup cross country podium last January, produced the first U.S. women's victory Sunday, winning a sprint in Rybinsk. She defeated world champion Astrid Jacobsen of Norway in the final meters of a 1.2K freestyle course for the first American win since Bill Koch in 1983.
“Last year [when she was third], I was too tentative to make a move on the uphill. This year, I figured 'No guts, no glory' and was ready to make the move,” Randall said. Only the top two skiers in any finals heat advance into the next round.
“I knew the speed was there, and I knew the course could work for me. I wanted to go for the win and not just settle [for another podium or top-5]. I stayed relaxed and was thinking good, positive thoughts.” The weather was cloudy with temperatures around freezing.
Her performance is the fourth World Cup podium by U.S. sprinters in the last three seasons after a 23-year drought. Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) was third in a sprint in China after the 2006 Torino Olympics; Randall finished third in Rybinsk last season and a week later Torin Koos (Leavenworth, WA) was third in Otepaeae, Estonia.
“We knew it was just a matter of time before any of us got it. It's just so good to be part of this surge. It makes the good times more special,” she said. “We've had success and we all support each other so much, so you know we'll have more success.”
Team dynamics elevate performance
U.S. Nordic Director Luke Bodensteiner agreed with her assessment. “Kikkan's right on the money. It's that support each of them is providing to the other which is driving this kind of success. They all train like crazy, and have great talent, but the Team dynamics are so strong,” he said.
“These athletes have been so close to popping one, to kicking open that door to a win, and now Kikkan's done it for all of them,” Bodensteiner said. “This kind of success won't end here.”
She took charge on the lone uphill, passed Jacobsen and never was caught as she “powered it to the finish. It felt good to hit that finish,” she said. Randall, a two-time Olympian who trains with Alaska Pacific University Nordic when she's not with the U.S. Ski Team, credited Ski Team waxing technicians who “made it easy for me all day. They kept me going fast. They had two pairs of Fischers ready; I picked one and then used that pair all day.”
Coach Justin Wadsworth said Randall has looked strong over the last two weeks in workouts, including some training with Olympic champion Chandra Crawford of Canada. “We knew Kikkan had the speed. She's been so fast. And Kikkan skied smart. There was a head wind on the back part of the course and you didn't want to lead in the wrong places,” he said.
Tricky head wind, then a tip from Jacobsen
“In the quarterfinal, I didn't want to lead with that head wind, so I sat behind [Italy's] Arianna Follis. But once we got the hill, I made a move because I wanted to be top two. I ended with a slingshot [passing the leader] on the downhill and won. 'Good, only two more heats,' I told myself. And it got easier with each step after that,” Randall said.
“In the semifinal, I watched Astrid make a big move on the hill in her heat and it worked well, so I thought I might try that in the final. There's a lot of flat at the start and then the first corner is a sharp left-hand turn. Astrid was next to me and eventually took the lead. I followed her up the big hill and came up beside her.
“I didn't want to lead and she didn't want to lead, so I decided I'd make the move and said to myself, 'I'm going for it' – and I hammered up the hill,” Randall said. “By the time we came through the downhill into the final stretch, I powered it to the finish.”
Randall has reduced pre-season travel for the last two years, skipping the Ski Team's annual camp in New Zealand in August. She preferred to eliminate the travel and train with the APU program. At other times, she joins the Ski Team for training camps. Before flying to Russia, she won an exhibition sprint in Zug, Switzerland, further confirming the confidence from her workouts.
“I've actually had a lot of confidence all summer. My training's gone well, and it's gone well when I'm working with the guys,” she said. “I had a new level of capacity and endurance, a new level of speed. It was good to get here and to have [won] in Zug. I knew there was a possibility here, but I just put that in the back of my mind so it wasn't a distraction. These World Cup field are tough, so you have to keep focused.”
World Cup started at Telemark
Her historic triumph made Randall only the second U.S. skier to win a cross country World Cup. Koch won four as he skied to the first World Cup title in the 1982 season and added a fifth win in a rain-snow-rain-sun-snow maelstrom in Sarajevo in 1983. Then-Alison Owen-Spencer, won a 5K race – there was no technique classification in those days – at Wisconsin's Telemark Resort in December 1978 in the first “experimental” (and therefore unofficial) World Cup race.
In the men's sprint, Newell finished seventh, winning the so-called B Final after being mouse-trapped behind a skier and stopping at the top of the uphill. Norwegians, led by Anders Gloersen filled the first five places.
“Andy got caught at the top of the big uphill and came to a total stand-stop. Then he got a little tangled with other skiers,” Wadsworth said. “So that kept him out of the A Final, but he dominated the B Final and really was rocking, which is a good sign of his fitness.”
The U.S. skiers fly home this week for the holidays before regrouping in Houghton, MI, for the 2008 U.S. Cross Country Championships Jan. 1-6 at Michigan Tech.
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