Four down, one to go.
The best season of Kikkan Randall’s career is almost over, and she’s going out in style, having won four straight races at the SuperTour Finals and U.S. 30 k Championships in Sun Valley.
The latest was Friday’s classic sprint, in which she skied into the finish with a clear, two-and-a-half second lead over her roommate, Canadian Chandra Crawford, with Utah’s Maria Graefnings in third.
Under a hot sun, the finals were a mushy, messy affair, with several women skiing in t-shirts and sports bras. But Randall (APU/USST) was unfazed—after crushing the morning’s qualifier on a fast, boilerplate surface, she fared just as well in the slop, opening a gap over the others on the course’s one climb.
“I knew that the critical section was going to be coming into the hill, just kind of keeping momentum going there, and carrying it over the top,” she said. “I felt like I did pretty well—I was really happy that my energy was just super-consistent through the day.”
Indeed, after her win in the qualifier, Randall didn’t miss a beat. In her quarter, she skied to a dominating, five-second win over Dartmouth’s Sophie Caldwell, breaking at the start and building her lead over the length of the 1.4-kilometer course.
In the semis, she waited a bit longer to make a move, but when she did, on the hill, it was equally decisive.
While Randall didn’t seem to be bothered as the conditions evolved throughout the day, the same couldn’t be said for the other women. Just like for the men, there were some big differences in ski speed. Several women struggled to find a balance between enough kick to climb the hill, but not so much that it slowed the skis down on the ensuing descent, among them Ida Sargent (Craftsbury), who qualified second but was eliminated in the semifinals.
“It was really packed in the beginning, so I got blocked out. Then, I tried to go for it on the hill, but it’s kind of hard when you get passed tucking,” she said. “That’s spring racing. I like it when it’s sunny—I can’t complain. But it would have been nice to have the other outcome.”
Nobody was skiing in the tracks, with some women on klister, and others on zeroes. Crawford switched from klister to zeroes after barely escaping from her quarterfinal as a lucky loser, and the new skis, she said, made things better.
After the quarterfinal, she said, “I was like, ‘well, I’m hydrating, I’m mentally prepared, I just don’t think my body’s working.’ But then I got on these [zeroes], and it felt so much easier.”
In the finals, Randall met Crawford for the first time, after besting Graefnings in the semis. For the first portion of the race, until the climb, the other women stuck close to Randall, who said she was still taking it out hard, even though she knew the other women would be there.
“I know I’m feeling good right now, so this is just good practice to go out and just try to run it hard,” she said. “I just
wanted to go out and kind of ski sections well. And [I] knew those girls were going to be right there with me on the last one, but I wasn’t afraid to go out and lead, and hope that I had the strength on the last hill that I had in the semifinal.”
Indeed, she did, and the hill was where she opened her gap. Crawford said that ideally, she would have attacked on the ensuing downhill, but with Randall already ahead, “a long distance attack from 20 feet back is not much of an attack—it’s more like an attempt to catch up.”
For her part, Graefnings said that Randall was a little too strong up the last hill—and that while her own glide was excellent, she was struggling with her own kick.
That left Randall free to collect her fourth victory in six days, along with another $500 for the win, and $200 for setting the fastest qualifying time.
She’s now more than a minute ahead of her nearest challenger in the overall standings of the SuperTour Finals mini-tour, with the last stage a hill climb up Dollar Mountain on Saturday.
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.