Kikkan Randall is enjoying being in a completely different spot than she was last year.
“This time last year, I was totally freaking out,” Randall said in an interview from Park City, Utah, on Friday. “I had spent six weeks with no skiing or running, I had just gotten the clear to start building into things again, and the season was coming, and I had no idea what to expect.”
This year, she knows what to expect. The U.S. star, who won her second consecutive Sprint Cup trophy at the end of the 2013 season, has been healthy pretty much since the season ended. No injuries, no long weeks of being unable to train.
“I think that’s what I’m most psyched about – training can always go up and down, but I’m just so psyched to be feeling healthy,” Randall said. “Knowing that I had that hurdle last year and it still went well, gives me the confidence this year that with training having gone really well – yeah, I just feel really confident going into the season.”
While much of the team left Park City at the end of last week and headed straight for Canmore, Alberta, Randall is flying home to Alaska. She has three and a half weeks in Anchorage before she leaves for Europe for the entire season, and is looking forward to some last critical training blocks.
That will cap off an offseason that has gone as well as she could have hoped.
“Training has really been going well all summer and all fall,” she said. “It has been a great three weeks here in Park City. When everybody came into town, we had two good weeks together. Some really good key intensity workouts and speed workouts, so yeah, I feel like I’m sitting right where I want to with a month to go until the season starts… So now I’m just going to try to get good training in and enjoy it.”
The other major change from last year is an “exponential” increase in media attention. This year Randall is healthy and so she has plenty of training to do – but when to do it? Her schedule as an athelte has to be balanced with a parade of print, online, and television interviews and even commercials.
“This will be my fourth Olympics,” she explained. “Even as far as Olympics go, which tend to bring a little more attention, this has been exponentially greater interest. It’s great to see the sport finally on the map for a lot of people, but it does mean a lot of extra stuff.”
2013 was the best season ever for the U.S. women’s team, so the increase in media attention makes sense. But how big is the change?
“It feels like every day I’ve had a phone call, or a photo shoot, or a camera interview,” she said. “Today I had a guy from Universal Sports there doing the bounding workout with us, and he’ll be with me in the gym this afternoon. The last three strength sessions I have had someone accompanying me. So it’s just tons of extra stuff.”
Sometimes journalists want to see Randall’s workouts, which means she can train with only minimal disruption, although there is a lot of coordination involved. But there’s lots that she has committed to doing in her supposed off time as well, which brings a different kind of challenge in terms of managing her time.
“It’s certainly been a logistical challenge with trying to make sure that the training is staying really high-quality, and that the recovery in particular is staying high-quality,” she said. “That’s a big challenge, but I think we’ve done a good job of balancing it. And it comes with the territory. It’s great to get the exposure, but it does take extra time. So you have to find out how to manage it properly.”
While Randall says she bears the brunt of media interest in the women’s team, every single member has had a busier schedule this year in terms of responding to media inquiries. Randall and Jessie Diggins, her teammate for a gold medal in the 2013 World Championships team sprint, have done a lot of publicity together. And for years, the team has made clear that their success comes from their close-knit relationship; as a result, the team itself is an object of attention, too.
“I’ve been really impressed with how they’re handling it,” Randall said of her younger teammates, for most of whom this will be the first Olympics. “Everyone is kind of excited to have the opportunity and it’s good for them to get a taste of it now, so that as they continue to improve later on they’ll know what to do.”
She now understands the reservations that some of her World Cup friends, from countries where skiing is a much more popular sport, have about the media.
“When Liz [Stephen] and I were in Sweden training with Anna [Haag] a couple of summers ago, her local newspaper wanted to come out and talk to us,” Randall laughed. “Anna was saying, ‘look, they want to come out and talk to us, but I told them I’m not sure, that I would talk to you guys…’ and we were like, ‘What? Someone wants to talk to us? Sure!!’ We couldn’t understand why Anna was apprehensive about it. Now we can understand a little bit better because when you do get those media requests all the time, it can get intense.”
She said she’s looking forward to chatting with her friends once she’s back in Europe, to share stories and maybe learn a few things about how they balance their obligations to fans with their ability to have a private life. Until then, Randall is focusing on the positive aspects of the team’s newfound place in the spotlight.
“For so many years we have sort of worked in the background,” she said. “Cross country skiing is such a hard thing with a demanding training routine, so it doesn’t leave a lot of time to sort of chase sponsors or work a part-time job. A lot of athletes are barely getting by. It’s nice to see that hard work paying off, and see companies see the value in cross country skiing… When you’re out there repping your country, you should be able to make a living. It’s cool to see that start to happen.”
Randall is certainly the most successful team member when it comes to attacting commercial sponsors; for years she’s had Subway branded onto her race hat, and this summer she also signed on with Kashi, a natural foods company, and Alaska Seafood. Randall sounds completely sincere when she talks about what skiers can offer for companies like these.
“I think we have a unique ability to be role models for that healthy, active lifestyle,” she explained. “With Kashi that has been really good because it is really in line with what I already do, and the same with Alaska Seafood.”
But her ability to draw sponsors is another reason why Randall has a busier schedule than some of her teammates. After an intense camp in Park City, she admitted that when she lands back in Alaska, she should be taking some recovery days. Instead, she’ll spend several days shooting a television commercial for Kashi. The spot will air this winter.
All the attention seems like it would increase the pressure to perform well this winter, but Randall is unfazed.
“I think that’s one of the really good things about the leadership on this team, the coaches and everybody else,” she said. “We talk about how the Olympics bring a lot of attention and it can bring a lot of hype, but that we’ve been successful doing the right things over the last couple of years and that’s really all we have to do. Keep doing the right things, work together, have fun, and enjoy it. Don’t let the expectations spin out of control. As a team I think we’re really well-prepared for winter.”
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Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.