Training with Marit Bjoergen and the Norwegian women’s cross-country team might be an intimidating prospect even for some of North America’s elite men. But not for Kikkan Randall.
In the middle of a two-week visit to Norway this month, Randall took up an offer to go head-to-head with the country’s women’s squad in a double-pole interval workout. And while the pace was high—“pretty much all out”—Randall wasn’t blown away.
“It was pretty cool just to jump into that level, and just try to hang on,” Randall said. But at the same time, she added, “there isn’t any magic to it.”
A consummate globetrotter—she won the 30 k national championship in Maine this March just a few days removed from three straight World Cup races in Sweden—Randall’s trip to Norway came on the tail end of three full days of meetings of the International Ski Federation in Antalya, Turkey, where she was serving as a member of the Athletes’ Commission.
Two years into a four-year term, Randall said that she’s getting the hang of how the Federation runs. The commission set a number of priorities for the meetings, including making FIS more environmentally-friendly, getting more influence and voting rights for skiers on other FIS committees, and ensuring that severely-injured athletes can get financial support—and Randall said that their sessions were productive.
Last year, Randall had attended similar meetings in Croatia and flown straight back to Alaska after three days, but this spring, she decided to make the most of her trip to Europe. So instead of returning home, Randall headed north to Norway, at the invitation of friend and fellow sprinter Ella Gjoemle.
For two weeks, Randall got a taste of just about everything the country has to offer. First, the women headed to the town of Askim for a rollerski race, where Randall swept both events—a 200-meter sprint and an 1130-meter uphill time trial.
Then, it was off to the Sognefjell snowfield for five days, a hotspot for European athletes during the summer. Randall is used to skiing on snow during the
summer—her team, Alaska Pacific University, has a facility that they use on the Eagle Glacier—but this was a new experience.
“The difference there was skiing behind Thomas Alsgaard for a lap, and then Marit Bjoergen was skiing behind me,” Randall said.
At Sognefjell, Randall said she was struck by the amount of support available to the Norwegian skiers. The national team’s wax bus and a number of service staff were at the glacier, which made it much easy for the athletes to test their fleets of skis.
“They have the financial resources available to have so much manpower present to assist in the training process,” Randall wrote in a follow-up e-mail. “This is one luxury that we don’t quite have in the States.”
In addition to Sognefjell and the sessions with the Norwegian women, Randall did some more travel, to Western Norway, and also to Oslo. There, she did some workouts at the Olympic Training Center, including some short sprints with Bjoergen.
Back home in Anchorage with a chance to reflect on her trip, Randall said that at times, she was “a little in awe of all the tools and resources that the Norwegian athletes have at their disposal.”
In addition to the level of service she observed at Sognefjell, Randall said that Norwegian skiers get much more personal financial support—local clubs offer their athletes money for basic living expenses, in addition to assistance with training.
On the other hand, she added, the basics are still the same.
“I was able to see that the way they train and stuff they are doing is not that much different than what we do,” she said. “I was…that much more proud of what we have accomplished from the U.S., with fewer resources.”
After relishing her experience in Norway, Randall said that she would like to return to Europe in future summers.
“It was so cool to be over there and train with people at that level—just to keep in touch with that,” she said. “I’d like to take advantage of these relationships I’ve made on the World Cup.”
Randall said that she spent time in Turkey with Swedish women Charlotte Kalla and Anna Haag—the pair was there in support of Sweden’s successful bid to host World Championships in 2015—and they told her that the door was open if she ever wanted to make an off-season visit.
Randall now has one month at home before traveling to New Zealand for more on-snow training, this time with the U.S. Ski Team (USST).
While Randall said she is excited to ski with her American teammates after missing the USST’s start-up camp earlier this year, the Canadians are also running a concurrent trip to New Zealand, so there will be no shortage of training partners.
“I just talked to [Canadian Olympic medalist] Chandra [Crawford]…and we’re fired up to be able to train together,” Randall said.
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.