The first day of cross country ski racing in this season’s opening World Cup Event has come to a close. Alaska Pacific University’s Kikkan Randall claimed a silver medal in the women’s classic style sprint race in Kuusamo, Finland. Randall said she didn’t expect a podium finish, but APU Coach Erik Flora thinks she was more than prepared. “You know, she’s been able to make a step every year and again it showed in the classic sprint,” Flora said in a phone interview. He’s coached Randall for most of her career. He spoke with Fasterskier’s Emily Schwing about what Randall’s silver medal finish for the rest of her season.
FasterSkier: This is kind of a big deal given that this is a classic race. Can you talk about what this means for Kikkan and her career thus far?
Erik Flora: Yeah for sure. Kikkan is every year becoming more of a balanced racer and doing better in the overall. She’s always had good strengths in skate sprinting and over the last few years her distance racing is getting better and same for the classic sprinting. It’s always been a step behind her skating, but not this season. She’s made another jump.
FS: She told another reporter from Fasterskier that she wasn’t expecting a podium finish. So, did you expect this as a coach?
EF: Yes, we’re using this year to come in and get ready for the Olympic season and so the approach has been to have more focus out later in the season. So, she’s coming in in a good place and she’s fit. From what I was watching in training in the last month, I could see it was possible, but yeah, it was a good day.
FS: Kikkan also said this was an excellent boost of confidence for here, just to know that in terms of training she’s on track, so do you feel like how you guys have prepared early on is starting show as the season gets underway?
EF: Yes absolutely. With her training this year, we’ve focused it more toward the mid-season, so we’re going to use the first few races to kind of race her way into shape – into race fitness -and so far it looks like it’s going well.
FS: How have you seen her change as an athlete? In her first Olympics, she was 19, now she’s 30. So what’s she doing differently now, to get her where she needs to be, come the games in Sochi?
EF: The biggest thing I’ve seen is she’s had a good approach in her training. I don’t know so much if anything’s changed so much as it’s been a steady progression. Each step of her training has built off the last one she’s moved off of. It’s been extremely progressive. It’s been a little bit more training or a little more quality training. You see her skills coming together. It’s unique in cross country skiing you have so many different techniques and race distances and you can see she’s just each yeah, been able to build off the last one and get better in the different disciplines.
FS: Is it too early to start looking at the Olympics and what might happen there.
EF: A little bit. We use this as a sign of where she’s at and where we go from here and I think it’s a positive sign that she’s in good shape and we haven’t pressed the training yet to be in high race form. I think you could say she’s in a good place at the start of the Olympic season.
FS: I read an article on NBC’s website and the reporter wrote clearly she’s peaking. Do you think that that’s accurate?
EF: No. No. Right now she’s not in peak form.
FS: And in terms of her career? Is she reaching the peak of her career?
EF: Oh yes! If we’re looking at her career, she’s definitely coming into the peak form in her career. It’s been with the training, it’s been very progressive. She’s at the level now where she can compete head-to-head most weekends, so she’s definitely coming into the peak part of her career.
FS: She’s got some other American women coming up behind her as well. Sadie Bjornsen and Ida Sargent also had some nice races today. So what’s that like to see?
EF: Oh it’s fantastic! A few years ago, when I first started working with Kikkan, there’d be one or two ladies on the World Cup circuit for the US. It’s been a hug benefit and a nice addition of a stronger women’s team and more ladies on the world cup from having training partners to other ladies to share time with on the road, it’s been fantastic.
FS: Tomorrow’s race is the 5km. What are you hoping to see there?
EF: I think we should have some more good results tomorrow and showing from today and last weekend’s racing, her fitness is coming up for racing so I think it will be good tomorrow.
FS: Erik, this is a busy time of year for you, isn’t it?
EF: Yeah, we have two teams out racing right now. We have our group out on the SuperTour, which it sounded like it went great today and we have the group that’s over on the World Cup.
FS: Are you sleeping at all?
EF: Not much, not much!
Emily Schwing is a public radio reporter in Interior, AK. She normally writes about athletes of the four-legged kind. When she's not chasing dog teams, skiers and local news, she's breaking trail on her rock skis with a dog name Ghost. Follow her on Twitter @emilyschwing