LIBEREC, Czech Republic (Feb. 24) - Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) put her mark on an already historic Nordic Ski World Championships for the USA, taking silver Tuesday in the cross country sprint to garner the highest medal for a U.S. cross country skier at Worlds in history.
Randall's silver-medal finish marked the first World Championship medal for a woman in cross country as well as the only medal a cross country athlete from the U.S. has won since Bill Koch took bronze in the 30K in 1982 in Oslo.
"It feels amazing. I've known in the back of my heart all along that it was possible," Randall said. "Considering where I was eight months ago - in the hospital with a blood clot - it feels incredible. I'm just so happy."
Randall qualified seventh before advancing to quarter and semi finals, both of which she won, to make finals. Arianna Follis of Italy had the lead coming into the finish while Randall battled Finn Pirjo Muranen for the silver. The two were neck and neck with the scoreboard initially showing Randall bronze, but then changing it to silver thanks to a daring lunge by the U.S. skier.
"With it constantly snowing and raining today, coming into the last hundred meters it was really bumpy. The balance was all over the place," Randall said. "I had gone all out up until that point and I was trying not to think of anything else except getting to the finish line. Luckily I lunged at the finish. I didn't know whether I was bronze or silver either, but it came out in my favor. I worked really hard for that.
"I felt really relaxed and really strong out there and I just made it happen."
Randall was motivated, in part, Tuesday after missing the podium in the last World Cup a week earlier in Italy. She had fallen in the finals coming around the last curve with a solid shot at a podium finish.
"Today she qualified seventh so we knew she was a little bit faster [than 10th in Italy last week]," said U.S. Cross Country Ski Team Coach Chris Grover. "She skied clean and smart and put herself into a position to show her fitness in every round."
In the quarterfinals, she led start to finish. "Her leading the quarterfinals was good because behind here there was a lot of contact," said Grover. In the semis, she let the Russian lead over the long first downhill and drafted her, then made a made her move to win and move into the finals.
In the A Finals, Randall took the lead over the first hill with the winner Follis overtaking her coming into the final corner before the finishing straight. Randall was a clear winner at the line for the silver.
Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) was the lead racer for the U.S. in the men's sprints, finishing 12th. Newell qualified second and had a strong quarterfinals, but went out in the semis.
"Newell got a pretty good start but he got boxed out and ran out of real estate at the end," said Grover. Newell was in the bottom bracket of the semi's and had only moments before the turnaround to the B Finals. "It's hard for him to do with him to do the quick turnaround when the recovery time is really compressed."
A Part of History
Randall has a storied history in setting benchmarks for the U.S. She had the best U.S. women's Olympic finish in history with a ninth in the sprint in Torino then, she won a World Cup in Rybinsk, Russia in Dec. 2007 to become the first U.S. woman to win a modern day cross country World Cup. According to Randall, the success the USA has seen thus far at the nordic Worlds inspired her performance Tuesday.
"It's really hard to put the experience fully into words. Everyone has been skiing so well this week," Randall said. "I've got to hand it to the combined skiers, jumpers and Kris Freeman for setting the tone this week. They just made us feel like greatness was possible. I'm happy to be a part of history - it's a great club to be in."
Randall is a product of a unique competition club in her hometown of Anchorage. APU Nordic, a program of Alaska Pacific University, began working with her as a high school athlete in its junior program. She later became a student and has continued with APU's elite program under coach Erik Flora.
"It's a perfect scenario for a U.S. athlete," said Flora, who was in Liberec working together with the U.S. Ski Team staff. "Often when athletes come out of their junior years they're face with the option of a full time NCAA program or not go to school at all. We have the flexibility to offer a part-time load to focus on training and give them good stability.
Randall continues to train with APU when home in Anchorage while working closely with the U.S. Ski Team, as well. "It's a nice partnership," added Flora. "When she's home she can train with us at APU and also take advantage of the Team's opportunities."
"This partnership has been in place for a long time, since the time Kikkan was a member of our development team," Grover said. "It's a benefit to the athletes because they can continue to work within their community and develop in a community setting while working with the high level elire resources of the U.S. Ski Team. It works really well."
Randall said that she would not have been able to succeed had it not been for the network of support she had at the race.
"My coach Erik Flora has been here and helped me prepare and build the confidence. My husband was there at the finish line, so that was really special to share with him," Randall said. "The U.S. Ski Team coaching staff and the wax staff here were incredible. I had amazing skis out there, which definitely played a part in my medal today. I've got to hand it to everyone who is working so hard for me here."
Next up for Randall are the team event and the relays, which she said she is looking forward to.
"I'm looking forward to joining the team side of things. I'm really happy," Randall said. "My racing form has come along in the last two weeks and I think I'm just going to go strong for the rest of the season."
In the classic team sprint on Wednesday, the U.S. Ski Team will go with Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) and Torin Koos (Leavenworth, WA) for the men and Laura Valaas (Wenatchee, WA) and Randall for the women.
"Newell had a really hard day today so we'll go with Freeman who is skiing great classic right now and Koos, who actually fell in qualifying and still almost made it. He's in great shape right now."
2009 NORDIC SKI WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Liberec, Czech Republic - Feb. 24, 2009
1. Ola Vigen Hattestad, Norway
2. Johan Kjoelstad, Norway
3. Nikolay Morilov, Russia
4. Dario Cologna, Switzerland
5. Marcus Hellner, Sweden
12. Andy Newell, Shaftsbury, VT
37. Chris Cook, Rhinelander, WI
43. Torin Koos, Leavenworth, WA
44. Garrott Kuzzy, Hayward, WI
1. Arianna Follis, Italy
2. Kikkan Randall, Anchorage
3. Pirjo Muranen, Finland
4. Natalia Matveeva, Russia
5. Ida Ingemarsdotter, Sweden
40. Liz Stephen, East Montpelier, VT
42. Laura Valaas, Wenatchee, WA
53. Morgan Smyth, Vernon, VT
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For complete results click here.