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!”
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.
“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.
“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
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Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.
March 24, 2014 at 1:58 am
“indoor sports like tennis.”
March 24, 2014 at 2:55 am
“indoor sports like tennis” Alaska…..
March 24, 2014 at 10:12 am
Back in the Paleolithic they taught us skate technique saying “Toe Knee Nose” because it sounded like the Mayor’s name tony Knowles. The kids knew him because he spearheaded the municipal coastal trail project which still is a hallmark for the city’s outdoor life. But that was like 10,000 years ago so I could be thinking of a previous life in Albonia or something.
March 24, 2014 at 1:42 pm
Man, I hadn’t thought of that in 20+ years. Awesome.
Then the Bering land bridge subsided, and I grew up to help sue the current mayor. Who thinks that tennis should only happen indoors, at great expense.
March 25, 2014 at 12:55 pm
“Caribou sandwiches”? Uhm, it’s illegal to sell wild game meat, raw or processed, in Alaska. Has been since statehood (1959). Reindeer are a close cousin to caribou, and tastes the same. So hopefully just BS advertising on the food truck. Toe-Knee-Nose .., ha! Tony Knowles is the only Anchorage mayor that I know of that has run Anchorage’s Mayor’s Marathon. Tony’s a nice guy, so is Dan.
March 25, 2014 at 6:25 pm
Tim – I’d thought this was just local color erroneously added to the story (though I know that Nat is a careful reporter, and Alex certainly seems to do good work), but it turns out that the food truck menu definitely advertises caribou sandwiches. Which is hopefully just false advertising on their part, rather than actual caribou, for the reasons you mention.
Hopefully this comment thread doesn’t dissuade FS from ever mentioning any piece of local color apart from straight-up race results in future articles…
March 25, 2014 at 6:31 pm
Is there any reason that someone couldn’t farm caribou just like they do reindeer? Another local meat-seller, Indian Valley Meats, has caribou teriyaki sticks….
March 25, 2014 at 7:18 pm
Perhaps they could raise it in whatever manner they wanted, but it would violate state law if they sold it? Though I assume your question really gets at, Does it not become “game,” under AS 16.05.920(a) and AS 16.05.940(19), if you’ve farmed it? Don’t know the answer to that one offhand. If only I had a JD, a law license, and time on my hands.
(Seriously, though, it looks like selling “game” is generally prohibited, AS 16.05.920(a), unless you qualify for one of several exemptions I haven’t looked into yet. But “game” is then defined to specifically exclude “domestic … mammals,” AS 16.05.940(19). And “domestic mammals” “include musk oxen, bison, and reindeer, if they are lawfully owned,” AS 16.05.940(10). I’d want to know more about the meaning of “include,” as well as about the relationship between reindeer and caribou.)
I mean, Go Kikkan.
March 26, 2014 at 12:17 pm
The moose in pic 4/5 looks like it has some tasty meat.
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