With four World Cup podiums this season, including a win in the final World Cup sprint before the World Championships last Sunday, Kikkan Randall (US Ski Team) is on the minds of both coaches and racers in the Norwegian camp.
“Kikkan Randall won last Sunday. It’s rarely a bad sign to win a major event four days before the World Championships,” said Jon Arne Schjetne, sprint coach for the Norwegian women’s team.
“Kikkan is definitely a candidate for the gold. She won the last sprint race, and she won in Liberec and in Otepää. She’s one of the very best sprinters out there and she’ll absolutely be tough in the final,” Marit Bjoergen said to FasterSkier at the press conference Tuesday morning.
So far this season, Randall has posted four World Cup podiums in the sprint: two first places (Drammen last Sunday and Liberec in January), a second place in Duesseldorf in December, and a third place in Davos, also in December.
Although Bjoergen has proven herself a solid sprinter this season after a few seasons of struggle, she is both nervous and excited to try her power against the rest of the field, knowing that everyone will be on top of their game.
“I look forward to the sprint now. I get a chance to race at home,” Bjoergen said, noting that she knows the expectations are sky high.
“It’s the first race, it could be good enough to be in the final, but it’s a difficult course and a lot of the girls are good enough to be in the final,” she said.
Norway’s team consists of Marit Bjoergen, Celine Brun-Lie, Maiken Caspersen Falla and Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen.
Kikkan Randall is causing concern also among the Swedish women. While the Swedish team is already proven in the sprint, both Charlotte Kalla and Ida Ingemarsdotter have a lot of respect for the swift Alaskan, who definitely is on a roll in the skate sprint this season.
“Kikkan is in killer shape this season. She’s been on the podium in all the skate sprints this season, she’s solid. I’d say she is THE favorite for the sprint,” Ingemarsdotter said to FasterSkier.
Kalla agreed, but added that the sprint event is wide open, and that there are a lot of candidates for the gold.
“Everything can happen in the sprint,” she said, noting that she feels confident after last weekend’s World Cup in Drammen, where she was third – behind Randall and Maiken Caspersen Falla (NOR) in second.
Kalla liked the course in Drammen, but doesn’t fear the course in Holmenkollen, though it has been widely criticized for being unfair, too narrow and poorly designed.
“The course in Drammen was a little longer, and the final stretch was longer. That gives you more to work with. But I think it will be fun tomorrow, and I like the course,” Kalla said, explaining that she knows it will be challenging.
“I have to focus on skiing fast in the qualifier, then treat each heat as an individual race, one at a time,” Kalla said, adding that doing well at the sprint would be a big relief.
“If it goes well tomorrow, I’ll surf on that wave through the whole championships. It’s always nice when it goes well from the start,” she said.
For a while, Kalla considered racing every event at the Worlds, but has since decided not to.
“I think it will be too hard both mentally and physically to do every event at the Worlds. I will race every competition the national director signs me up for, but right now it looks like I’ll skip the team sprint. There are a lot of good skiers on our team that can do that job,” Kalla said, adding that she will do it if someone gets sick.
Marit Bjoergen is still holding the option of racing everything open. When Kalla thinks it’s too much, what makes Bjoergen think she can get away with it?
“If anyone can do it, that would be Marit Bjoergen,” Kalla said, her voice filled with respect.
The Swedish sprint ski team consists of Charlotte Kalla, Ida Ingemarsdotter, Hanna Brodin and Hanna Falk. The freestyle sprint competition gets under way with qualifiers starting at 1:30pm, local time.
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.