GeneralNewsRacingUS Ski TeamSuperTour Sprint: Randall Delivers Another Win for Home Crowd, Anchorage Mayor Included

Avatar Nathaniel HerzMarch 23, 201410
Kikkan Randall leads a semifinal heat at Sunday's SuperTour Finals classic sprint race at Anchorage's Kincaid Park. Photo, Bill Roth, Anchorage Daily News
Kikkan Randall (APU/USST) leads her semifinal at Sunday’s SuperTour Finals classic sprint at Kincaid Park in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo: Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Normally, when Anchorage cross-country skier Kikkan Randall races, it’s in front of a crowd of largely indifferent Europeans — Swedes or Norwegians who might recognize her, but would prefer to see someone from their own country crossing the finish line first.

But at the SuperTour Finals 1.4-kilometer classic sprint on a sunny Sunday at Kincaid Park — just a few miles from her house in South Anchorage — Randall was the center of attention. There were family members, friends, even Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan watching from the side of the trail, with Sullivan himself offering up an unabashed shout of “Go Kikkan!”

Kikkan Randall (APU/USST) in Sunday's 1.4 k classic sprint qualifier at SuperTour Finals in Anchorage, Alaska. She went on to win the final for her second-straight win at home at Spring Series.
Kikkan Randall (APU/USST) in Sunday’s 1.4 k classic sprint qualifier at SuperTour Finals in Anchorage, Alaska. She went on to win the final for her second-straight win at home at Spring Series. (Photo: Rob Whitney)

Randall delivered, winning the final by 2 seconds over Sadie Bjornsen, one of her teammates on the Alaska Pacific University (APU) Elite Team and U.S. Ski Team (USST). It was Randall’s second victory in as many races at the Finals, after she won the 10 k freestyle individual start on Saturday.

The women are just one week removed from their last race in Europe, nine time zones away, and after an up-an-down season, they could be forgiven for treating these competitions with a little less seriousness. But with a big local crowd out watching, packed shoulder to shoulder along the final climb, Randall gave it everything, grimacing as she double poled to the finish line in finals — her third sprint heat of the day.

“I’m out in schools all year talking about how you have to give it your best: ‘If you dream big and work hard, you can accomplish your dreams.’ I feel like I’m out here and I have to follow my own advice a little bit,” she said afterwards. “With so many people who come out and cheer you on, it’s important to perform well, even if it’s the end of the season.”

Bjornsen won the preliminary qualifier by nearly three seconds over Sophie Caldwell, also of the USST, who skis for the Vermont-based Stratton Mountain School (SMS) T2 Team.

Randall qualified fifth, five seconds back, but she won both her quarterfinal and semifinal heats before setting up for the finals with Bjornsen, Caldwell, Ida Sargent (Craftsbury Green Racing Project/USST), Jessie Diggins (SMST2/USST), and Anchorage’s Holly Brooks (APU/USST) — six of the seven women on the U.S. Ski Team.

Diggins made a hard push in the first portion of the 1.4-kilometer course, which was mostly flat and downhill, but the women were still in a pack when they arrived at the bottom of the big climb up to the finish.

Bjornsen made a push to challenge for the lead, but she said she started struggling on the steepest part of the climb. The tracks on Sunday were made up of a thin layer of powdery snow atop hard ice, and Bjornsen said she was scrambling too much to make her wax stick, which allowed Randall to get away.

Kikkan Randall celebrates her second win in as many races at 2014 SuperTour Finals with a classic-sprint win on Sunday in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo: Rob Whitney)
Kikkan Randall celebrates her second win in as many races at 2014 SuperTour Finals with a classic-sprint win on Sunday in Anchorage, Alaska, ahead of fellow U.S. Ski Team members Sadie Bjornsen (1) in second and Ida Sargent (3) in third. (Photo: Rob Whitney)

“Kik had some really good striding on the steepest part, and I was kind of slipping around a little too much to stride it out,” Bjornsen said. “All the other heats, I was not frantic enough that I could ski them. But when it becomes frantic, I tend to slip around a bit more.”

Randall said that she had struggled similarly in her first heat, but changed her technique to be smoother in the semifinals and finals.

“The last two rounds, I just kind of found a good rhythm — I think I was just feeling better and better every round,” she said.

Sargent was third, closing a gap to Bjornsen on the home stretch and just barely losing a lunge for the finish line.

“It was a good battle with Sadie in the finishing stretch,” Sargent said. “It’s so fun to have our last sprint race of the year be a final between six of us on the team. It was the most fun sprint heat I’ve done all year.”

With the fans, a warm sun, and even a food truck slinging caribou sandwiches and reindeer hot dogs, the race had a festive feel, and many of the athletes seemed to have permanent smiles regardless of their placing. Especially the Alaskans, who got a boost from the partisan crowd.

The all-U.S. Ski Team women's classic sprint podium (from left to right) Holly Brooks in sixth, Sophie Caldwell in fourth, Sadie Bjornsen in second, Kikkan Randall in first, Ida Sargent in third, and Jessie Diggins in fifth. (Photo: Rob Whitney)
The all-U.S. Ski Team women’s classic sprint podium (from left to right) Holly Brooks in sixth, Sophie Caldwell in fourth, Sadie Bjornsen in second, Kikkan Randall in first, Ida Sargent in third, and Jessie Diggins in fifth. (Photo: Rob Whitney)

“Half these kids I babysit, and the other half are my professors’ at school,” Bjornsen said.

“I want to pack them up and take them on the World Cup, for sure. These are the best fans of the entire season,” said Brooks.

This race series is the first at the elite level in Anchorage since 2010, and Randall said that was welcomed after the Americans had spent their season at high-profile races in Europe, and at the Olympics in Russia.

“I’ve had so many people say, ‘It’s so good to finally see you race,’ ” Randall said. “And I am a little taken aback by that, but then I realize what this team has been accomplishing, and for us to all be here doing what we do best, in front of a hometown crowd, I think is really cool.”

That crowd included Sullivan, the Anchorage mayor, who’s more known for his interest in indoor sports like tennis and basketball.

“At first when I saw him, I was like, ‘Oh, hey Dan,’” Randall said. “And then I went, ‘Wait, wait a second — Dan’s here at a ski race!’ That’s pretty awesome.”

Alex Matthews contributed reporting

Results

Jessie Diggins (l) congratulates her fellow U.S. Ski Team member Kikkan Randall on her win after racing Randall in Sunday's classic-sprint final at Kincaid Park in Anchorage, Alaska. Diggins placed fifth, 8.86 seconds back. (Photo: Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News)
Jessie Diggins (l) congratulates her fellow U.S. Ski Team member Kikkan Randall on her win after racing Randall in Sunday’s classic-sprint final at Kincaid Park in Anchorage, Alaska. Diggins placed fifth, 8.86 seconds back. (Photo: Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News)

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Nathaniel Herz

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.

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