Saturday’s race at Whistler Olympic Park was about 20 times as long as Kikkan Randall’s best distance.
But no matter: the Alaskan more known for her sprinting put in another outstanding performance Saturday in the 30 k classic, finishing 24th—a career-best in the event. It was Randall’s first time competing in the long-distance race at the Games, and only her third time racing over 15 k on the World Cup.
Coming into the Games, she wasn’t even sure that she was going to start the event.
“I flip-flopped a lot during the week. Since I hit my goals in the sprint and the team sprint, I could have easily stopped and said, ‘hey—that was a great Olympics,’” Randall said. “At the same time, I knew I was in great shape, and I’d never raced a 30 k at a major championship before, so it was a great chance to get experience.”
With bib number 33 of 55, Randall was towards the back of the pack from the gun. Her strategy for the race, which she planned with her club coach, Erik Flora of APU, was to hang tough for the first five or ten kilometers—after which things usually start to settle down, she said.
While Randall remained in the back half of the field through the first couple of laps, she didn’t concede much time, as the women were still in a tight group. When the race started heating up, around 15 k, she was still within sight of the leaders, just over 30 seconds back.
Two-thirds of the way through, Randall had settled in, and at 20 k she was in 23rd—just one spot from her final result.
But just because she only dropped one place by the finish, though, didn’t mean she didn’t have to suffer. With six or seven kilometers to go, Randall said, she started getting some cramping, especially in her arms. That forced her to stay on her klister skis, which, while stickier and easier to kick, were slower than the harries she had available in the pit.
Then, Randall had to fight a knock-down, drag-out sprint to the line with Poland’s Sylwia Jaskowiecz, winning in a photo finish after some desperate striding over the last ten meters.
With her result from today, plus a sixth in the team sprint, eighth in the classic sprint (a personal and Olympic best), and a strong relay leg, it’s clear that Randall pegged her peak perfectly. That was satisfying, given that the Games were her big goal of the year, though Randall said that in the future, she’d like to be able to have that top form for longer.
“I hope every year I can extend the peak a little bit more,” she said. “But ultimately, it’s great to perform at big championships.”
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.