Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
HOUGHTON, Mich. â€” Kikkan Randall’s win on Thursday didn’t carry nearly the same magnitude as her historic victory last month, but it instead displayed a different benefit â€” she’s helping raise the Alaska Pacific University team, including a pair from Fairbanks, to greater heights.
Randall, who by claiming a sprint in Russia Dec. 16 became the first American woman to win a Nordic skiing World Cup race, handled the competition in a 10-kilometer classic race Thursday at the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships.
â€œI really just focused on getting all I could out of my body today,â€ said Randall, who reversed, for her, a mediocre 10th-place freestyle result two days earlier in the opener of the week-long competition at the Michigan Tech University Nordic Training Center.
The World Cup conquest has changed Randall’s life, and she hopes it will have a lasting impression on Nordic Skiing in the United States.
â€œI was very happy to cross the finish line and achieve a goal, but I really had no idea what an impact that success was going to have on skiing on our country,â€ Randall said after striding her way to a win in 30 minutes, 24 seconds. Runner-up Swede Kristina Strandberg finished 22 seconds back.
That impact has included greater exposure â€” such as articles in the New York Times, USA Today and the Alpine-dominated Ski Racing magazine â€” and countless congratulations from acquaintances and strangers alike.
â€œThe funnest part for me probably has been hearing from the younger skiers, because what I want to show them is that we can do this, and that if they get engaged and have fun early on, they can do it too.â€
One of those younger skiers is Becca Rorabaugh, who graduated from West Valley High School this past summer and then deferred her college enrollment to Dartmouth in order to train with APU stars like Randall, Laura Valaas and Tazlina Mannix (who did not race Thursday because of sickness).
That decision is paying off: Rorabaugh placed 15th Thursday, which gives her a decent shot of qualifying for the upcoming World Junior Championships.
â€œI’ve never really focused on skiing before and just throwing it all in for the past few months has made a huge difference,â€ said Rorabaugh, who placed 43 places lower in the classic race at U.S. Nationals exactly one year earlier.
Also crediting the APU camaraderie was veteran racer Kate (Pearson) Arduser, a Lathrop graduate who trains with APU but is funded by Team Rossignol. She placed fourth overall and won the bronze medal as the third American.
â€œWe’re standing next to Miss World Cup here, and that boosts your confidence,â€ said Arduser, who is seeking to gain a spot at World Cup races later this month in Canmore, Alberta. â€œJust knowing you’ve trained with people who are having success almost makes you believe you too can have success.â€
Arduser attributed several factors to her best Nationals classic race, which started with a temperature of 12 degrees. Arduser moved up eight positions after the midway point.
â€œI skied a really patient, smooth race. I had a lot of trust in my training and my coaches and I was just very prepared to work hard today,â€ Arduser said.
Factory Team sweeps men’s race
The Factory Team has been around 14 years but before Thursday had never swept a U.S. Nationals race.
That’s what it pulled off in the hilly men’s 15K, however, as Ivan Babikov of Russia cruised to his second straight win (40:51), Lars Flora of Anchorage was a distant second (but first American) and Andrey Golovko of Kazakhstan rounded out the podium in just his second race with the Factory Team. Kris Freeman of the U.S. Ski Team faded to fourth.
â€œYou go 1-2-3 and Kris is in fourth. That’s a pretty good day,â€ Flora said.
The only disappointment for Flora, brother of APU head coach Erik Flora, was the 68-second margin behind Babikov.
â€œI crossed the line and I thought I was eight seconds to Babikov so I was really excited, but then I was a minute, eight (seconds),â€ Flora said. â€œBut I’m still happy with a national championship, of course.â€
Flora is still seeking his first breakthrough on the World Cup circuit and says everything â€” fitness, support, fast skis â€” has to click for him to land in the top 30.
â€œMy performance today is probably just inside the top 50 on the World Cup, and getting a top 30 you gotta be with Ivan,â€ Flora said.
High schooler David Norris, meanwhile, took 51st among 250 starters, the second superlative result for a Fairbanks junior from Team FAST in as many races. Reese Hanneman was 54th on Tuesday.
Norris’ performance was all the more remarkable considering a month ago his arm was in a sling because of a broken collar bone. Norris decided to postpone surgery and said he is racing without pain, though he must ski with extra vigilance.
â€œI’m not supposed to crash,â€ Norris said.
Norris said skiing along with the best racers in America is both a little nerve-wracking (â€œI’m definitely a little more anxious in the morning going into a race like thisâ€) and inspiring (â€œIt shows me what I have to do to get to the Olympicsâ€).
For the Alaska Nanooks, Thursday was a mixed bag.
Marius Korthauer led all collegians again in sixth place, while Vahur Teppan said his energy was lacking although he still took a solid 15th. But the other six Nanooks men finished between 92nd and 122nd.
For the women, Aurelia Korthauer took 37th and redshirt Julia Coulter was 59th, Anna Coulter placed 60th and Elisabeth Habermann landed in 62nd.
â€œThe women just were off today,â€ Nanooks coach Scott Jerome said. â€œTop 30 is certainly achievable. That’s what we were shooting for.â€
Friday will be a rest/training day before the championships conclude with an individual sprint on Saturday and a team sprint on Sunday.
Randall will be a heavy favorite in the sprint but is taking nothing for granted.
â€œSprinting is wild, anything can happen,â€ she said. â€œIt’s a very different course here than it was in Russia.â€
Matias Saari writes for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner