PRAGELATO, Italy (Feb. 22) - American Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, AK) made history Wednesday as she was ninth in the Olympic cross country sprint, the best all-time Olympic finish by any U.S. woman.
Canadian Chandra Crawford won the gold and was followed by silver medalist Claudia Kuenzel of Germany and bronze winner Alena Sidko of Russia. Canadian Beckie Scott was fourth.
Other U.S. finishes today included Wendy Wagner (Park City, UT) in 35th and Lindsay Williams (Hastings, MN) in 38th.
"I'm really excited about today, said an exhilarated Randall, who jumped out to an early lead in her final heat. "Yesterday, I wasn't feeling so hot. After three races already I was a little unsure, but to come in here and ski well in the qualifying round, I felt so relaxed. I was hoping for a top 20 today and top 10 is just amazing. It really sets the stage for four years from now."
Randall powered her way through the morning qualifying rounds to place tenth. The top 30 racers moved on to the finals.
In the quarterfinals, which consisted of five heats of six skiers, Randall was second in her heat behind Scott. In the semis (two heats of five), she finished fourth in her heat, which included Kuenzel and Scott.
"I had the inside line and had lots of speed," said Randall of her final heat race. "Over the top of the hill, I had to slow down and tuck back into fifth. I tried to make another move on the last corner and just got shut out a little bit."
The sprint event debuted at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, where Tessa Benoit had the best U.S. finish in 38th.
Prior to Randall's ninth, the best Olympic cross country finish by a U.S. woman was posted by Nina Kemppel, who was 15th in the 30k in 2002.
"I think our team is doing some really innovative things to put our sprinters toward the top," said Randall. "It's just fun to be part of a team that's come up together. It's a huge confidence booster and it's great to be part of a team that's moving up every race."
XX OLYMPIC WINTER GAMES
Pragelato, ITA - Feb. 22, 2006
Cross Country Women's Sprint
1. Chandra Crawford, Canada
2. Claudia Kuenzel, Germany
3. Alena Sidko, Russia
4. Beckie Scott, Canada
5. Virpi Kuitunen, Finland
9. Kikkan Randall, Anchorage, Alaska
35. Wendy Wagner, Park City, Utah
38. Lindsay Williams, Hastings, Minn.