In Oslo, Crash in Quarters Ends Randall’s Day Early

Nathaniel HerzFebruary 24, 201110
Kikkan Randall (USA) skiing alone in her quarterfinal after a tangle with Swedish sprinter Ida Ingemarsdotter.

Out of a crowd of 20,000 people watching at the 2011 World Ski Championships, there can’t have been more than a few dozen who were disappointed when American Kikkan Randall crashed out of the women’s sprint.

After all, the race was in Oslo, and as a big favorite, Randall was one of the only athletes expected to threaten the hometown favorite, Norwegian superwoman Marit Bjoergen.

So when Randall slipped on one of Ida Ingemarsdotter’s (SWE) skis and went down halfway through her quarterfinal heat, there weren’t many crestfallen spectators out there. But there were still a few—namely, all the Americans in attendance.

“It took the wind out of us,” said Randy Gibbs, one of the U.S. Ski Team’s service staff.

The defending silver medalist, and the current leader of the women’s World Cup sprint standings, Randall had more than just a shot at the podium on Thursday.

But while she was a heavy favorite, the sprint is the most unpredictable event in the World Championships program—where athletes can go from contenders to pretenders in the space of a single stride. With more than 60 World Cup starts under her belt, and a race-ending tangle as recently as January, Randall knew that nothing was guaranteed in Oslo.

“With all the talk, it’s fun to be the big favorite coming into today, but I also knew that it’s sprint racing, and anything can happen,” she said. “Unfortunately, it did.”

For the handful of U.S. ski fans that had found a way to watch Thursday’s race, Randall’s mishap surely left all them asking the same question: “What happened?”

The Alaskan had come over the top of the sprint course’s big hill, roughly halfway through the race, in decent position, just behind Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla and Norway’s Celine Brun-Lie.

Randall after being eliminated.

“I was kind of thinking, right as I was about to tuck into third, it was going perfectly, because I felt like there was a lot of moving around left on the course,” Randall said.

But she was still neck-and-neck with one of Kalla’s teammates, Ida Ingemarsdotter, and as the women rounded a righthand corner on their way back into the stadium, their skis crossed, and Randall was thrown off kilter before she knew what was happening.

”One moment it was going really well, and the next moment I was going down backwards, and I was going fast,” she said. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t turn it around.”

Jessie Diggins, the other American in Randall’s heat, was trailing, and witnessed the aftermath.

“I just looked up and saw her facing me, and I was like ‘What?  This isn’t right,’” she said.

By the time Randall got her body and equipment sorted out and facing the right direction, the other skiers in her heat were long gone, leaving her to trail in a full 12-and-a-half seconds behind. Her final placing was 26th—her first time missing the finals in a skate sprint this year.

“It’s a bummer. Kikkan was looking really strong in the prelim. Going out in the start in the quarters, she was looking really strong as well, and I though, ‘okay, today is a good day,’” said her coach, Erik Flora, who was present in Oslo. “It looked like her body was in the right place; it looked like it was going to happen. And then—that’s sprint racing. Just a little misfortune.”

It wasn’t the way the day was supposed to end, but whether it was tight spots on the course, athletes taking chances in pursuit of medals, or some other reason, the racing on Thursday was especially chippy. No fewer than three North Americans—Alex Harvey, Chandra Crawford, and Randall—had their hopes derailed by physical contact.

The close-quarters racing was a shock for Diggins, in her first-ever World Cup sprint heat—which in addition to Randall also saw Norwegian Celine Brun-Lie go down.


“ I know racing’s aggressive, but I just saw so many people go down today,” Diggins said.

Should Randall have done anything differently? Flora didn’t think so—he said that she skied a “great race.”

“Kikkan’s usually really good with [avoiding crashes], and I think the thing is that sometimes, you just can’t help it. It just happens,” he said. “I don’t really look at anything being different. She skied well, and she got stuck.”

For her part, Randall acknowledged that she may have erred by biding her time and staying behind Brun-Lie and Kalla. But the Oslo sprint course was a challenging one, and it saw many athletes fade hard after leading early.

“For sure, the closer you are to the front, generally, you stay out of trouble more. So, looking back, maybe I should have made a harder push to be up in the top two,” Randall said. “But I was actually feeling really good about my position. I thought I skied really well on the hill…and I was kind of saving it for the end. Risky strategy, though.”

Randall still has more racing left in Oslo—her next event is the 10 k classic on Monday—and Flora said that her fitness “is one more step more than it’s been.”

Realistically, though, Thursday’s race was her only chance at a medal in Oslo—she’ll have to wait until the 2013 World Championships in Italy for her next shot.

The result no doubt stings, and as Randall acknowledged, “I’m sure I’ll play that moment over and over in my mind.”

But she knew from the beginning that the day wouldn’t be easy, and the fact that she could still crack a smile within a few minutes of the race was a testament to her perspective.

“You know, a race like this is too hard to pin all your hopes on,” she said. “I gave it what I had today.”

Link to full results. More on the North Americans and the international women to follow.

Nathaniel Herz

Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.

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  • Lars

    February 24, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Its sad when some of the best racers get taken out by accidents. Maybe the course was to narrow or the corners were to sharp ?

    Anyway there seem to be a lot of mishaps today and kinda makes the race less fun.

  • chadsalmela

    February 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Don’t have any links to the stories, but they are out there, and there were a lot of protests to the course long before today about the tight quarters on this sprint course. Many asked for changes to the course to widen it or change the layout, but it wasn’t changed. The Norwegian athletes themselves (Northug and Hattestad) if I remember correctly, were the most outspoken.

  • skiarrhea

    February 24, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    I don’t know if you guys got a chance to watch all the races, but it really didn’t seem like the course was at fault. Although the course had some tight turns, there are plenty of other courses on the WC that are narrower and have tighter corners… (Take davos for example From the NRK interviews I heard, people were just a little excited today and making silly mistakes. And most of all, it’s sprint racing. Throwing 6 fast skiers out on a course where everyone wants to win is bound to cause some incidents. Especially with a world championship title on the line.

  • skiarrhea

    February 24, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    Sorry for the bad link. Here is a working link

  • RonBott

    February 24, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    I wish they would just do away with the sprint races.

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    February 24, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    yes, do away with the “sprint” – boring to watch, and not really a “sprint” (less than 60 seconds or so). Plus, seems that it is often same men/women who are top 10 in standard distance races are top 10 in “sprints”. Of course, if we did away with the current sprint format, the current USST would be favored in….?

  • cnrdgrn

    February 24, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    That’s why they have races. The course was the course. It wasn’t a surprise. All courses are different. None are perfect. There is something about any course that somebody doesn’t like. You race. You deal with it. Kikkan had a legitimate chance to win. She didn’t. If you don’t like the “risks” of sprint races. Race something else. Whatever you do…as an athlete or a coach or a fan…please stop whining.

  • skiarrhea

    February 25, 2011 at 9:20 am

    If you check out the fis rankings, there are only three athletes that have cracked the top 10 in both sprint and distance events. Marit Bjoergen, Justyna Kowalczyk, and Petter Northug. The Sprint format has brought in more fans in recent years than any other event with its short, viewer friendly courses. With it’s “all or nothing” demeanor, its very fun to watch. Also, with now only 3-5 more distance races than sprint races, the format is more integrated and involved than ever.

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    February 25, 2011 at 9:40 am

    you forgot saareinen, madjic, follis in FIS rankings, plus looking at results, currently Kershaw, Harvey, Hellner, etc, etc. who have recorded top 10 in both sprint and distance races on the WC in a single season. Whatever.
    Point is, majority same athelets succeed/win in both formats, unlike true track sprints where it is open to a completely differnt athlete,with 0 reapet names in top 10. Unfortunatley, it seems the only format Americans can obtain a top 10 on a regular basis are these “sprints”.
    My opinion is x-c “sprints” are un-interesting and I do not see evidence that x-c is a more popular sport because the format exists. It is boring to watch.

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