by Christa Case Bryant
As a spunky teen who entered bodybuilding competitions, skied 74 miles an hour downhill to win the Alaska speed-skiing competition, and nearly ran a sub-5-minute mile, Kikkan Randall acquired the nickname “Kikkanimal.”
It stuck, and it should. No one makes it to the top echelons of cross-country skiing, where the world’s fittest women wage battle in a scrum of flying skis, without a certain ferocity.
That attitude, plus a decade of grueling training, helped Randall score a second-place finish this week at the 2009 Nordic World Ski Championships – only the second American ever to medal in cross-country at Worlds.
“I’ve always had the compulsion, ever since I was a little kid, to do something big,” said Randall via e-mail. “When I got involved in cross-country skiing, the US hadn’t been successful yet. But deep down I felt it was possible.”
In a sporting upset on par with Jamaica’s bobsled gold at the 2000 Worlds, the US ski team was leading the medal count halfway through the championships. True, America – unlike a Caribbean nation – has ample snowy regions to develop winter athletes. But its ski community had long labored under a belief that Europeans were superior racers – a belief mirrored in results. Now, a decade after taking bold steps to reverse that trend, the US Ski Team is seeing promising dividends.