When it comes down to it: health matters. That’s what Kikkan Randall and her coach at Alaska Pacific University, Erik Flora, reasoned when the U.S. Ski Team veteran decided to sit out a few races nearly two weeks ago.
After feeling slightly rundown, Randall first skipped the 15 k freestyle mass start on Feb. 4 in Rybinsk, Russia. She pulled through the 15 k skiathlon the next day, but came down with a cold shortly after.
Last weekend, Randall missed both races after originally planning to ski the relay.
“Even though I really wanted to race the relay and had been looking forward to it all season, I felt I had to play it safe and make sure I was fully recovered for the Poland races,” she wrote in an email.
On Friday, Randall needs to compete in Szklarska Poreba, Poland, if she wants to continue leading the World Cup sprint standings. Not only are the freestyle sprints the last of their kind this season, there wasn’t much room between those at the top of the standings.
She led Russian Natalia Matveeva by 109 points heading into Friday’s sprints. Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland was about 40 additional points back in third.
“Racing fast this weekend will help me hold on to my lead in the sprint cup and will also be good to pull myself out of the rough patch I’ve had the last few weeks,” Randall wrote. “I know my fitness is still there.”
Flora knew it, too. In an email, he wrote that this wasn’t the time of year to be “building fitness” anyway. With all of the racing she did this year, which was more than normal, Randall was mostly trying to find a balance after initially chasing both the overall World Cup and sprint titles.
“It has been important to focus with the goal of being healthy first,” Flora wrote. “This unfortunately impacted the overall. This is always a difficult decision, but important, when you consider the long-term impacts on a career. If she is healthy now, she will be even stronger in the future!”
In the overall rankings, Randall was fifth, 22 points behind Charlotte Kalla (SWE) in fourth. She trailed leader Marit Bjørgen (NOR) by more than 800 points.
“We looked at this season as an experiment, try racing a lot and see what happens,” Randall wrote. “We knew there would be a potential to have some low periods, especially in the middle of the season. So it’s not a surprise that I’ve been sick a few times. I’ve done a lot of racing, and without the ability to be at home in between races, it’s a big load physically and mentally. I’m definitely learning a lot.”
Randall explained she skied easily in preparation for Friday’s sprints and Saturday’s 10 k classic race.
“She is stronger now than last week,” Flora wrote.
Topher Sabot contributed reporting.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.