Kikkan Randall of Anchorage -- America’s best female cross country skier ever -- delivered a promising World Cup performance in Kuusamo, Finland, on Sunday, finishing 23rd in the women’s 10-kilometer classic race for her best result ever in an international distance race.
Randall is known primarily as a sprinter, and a year ago in Rybinsk, Russia, won the first World Cup race by an American woman in a freestyle sprint. She was the only American woman to race on Sunday.
"Today was a great race for me, my first time scoring World Cup points in a distance race," she wrote by e-mail from Finland. "It’s been a goal of mine for a long time to crack into the top 30 in a World Cup distance race, and it’s exciting to make it happen in the first distance race of the year."
Randall opened her World Cup campaign on Saturday by finishing 33rd in a classic sprint race. In a tightly bunched field, she was just 0.6 seconds from advancing to the quarterfinals.
On Sunday, Randall noted, "It’s an odd occurrence when my distance result outdoes my sprint result in a World Cup weekend" but she was thrilled nonetheless. So was her coach.
"Today was Kikkan’s best distance race ever, so we’re really happy about that," U.S. cross-country coach Pete Vordenberg told the Associated Press. "Her best results are obviously in sprint. Her fitness is definitely there and she’s podium potential for sure."
Finnish hometown fans got a double treat as Finnish skiers Aino-Kaisa Saarinen and Virpi Kuitunen took the top two spots in the women's race. Saarinen won in 28 minutes, 16.4 seconds, while Kuitunen was 3.8 seconds behind.
The men's 15-K classic race also delivered promise for the American team.
Kris Freeman of Andover, N.H., the team's strongest skier, finished tied for 16th and just one minute behind victor Martin Johnsrud Sunby of Norway.
"I felt really good, and I was thinking this could be my podium day," Freeman said. "I was running in 10th place and I tried to put the hammer down in the last 5K and I just didn't have it."
Johnsrud Sundby finished in 37:52.5. He defeated defending World Cup champion Lukas Bauer of the Czech Republic by 3.5 seconds and Sami Jauhojarvi of Finland by 14.1 seconds.
"I had not been higher than 10th in a World Cup race, so of course I was surprised and very happy," he said.