After a sluggish qualifying stage, Kikkan Randall turned in her best classic sprint finish of the World Cup cross-country ski season Wednesday. Using late charges in a semifinal and final heat, the Anchorage skier was fifth at a race in Drammen, Norway.
It was Randall's best finish at the event in Drammen, where she has competed six times and failed to get beyond qualifying rounds until breaking through to the semifinals last year. Randall was the only North American to make the finals or semifinal Wednesday, grabbing the last of six final spots.
"In the final I had a decent start, but didn't ski the bottom half of the course smart enough nor aggressive enough," Randall said in an email. "I left too much work to do and was only able to pass one skier before the finish line."
Randall was 4.7 seconds off the winning pace set by Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk, who took first by nearly a full second ahead of Norway's Heide Weng. Anchorage's Sadie Bjornsen finished 30th after posting sixth place in a quarterfinal heat. Anchorage's Holly Brooks missed qualifying for the heats, taking 34th just ahead of teammate Sophie Caldwell in 35th.
Randall, who clinched her second straight World Cup sprint title with a freestyle victory last weekend, finds more success in freestyle races than classic races. Once she reached Wednesday's final, however, she set her sights set on reaching the podium.
"The feelings today were really good and I feel like my full race gear is coming back," she said. "Classic sprints are always challenging for me to get the body, the technique and the skis just right. It was challenging today to keep the skis fast in the sugary snow."
Randall, a three-time Olympian, was frustrated with her qualifying performance. She barely reached the quarterfinals, but once there made a strong push during the final 200 meters to vault from fifth to first in a quarterfinal heat. In her semifinal heat she was just good enough to reach the final of an event she called one of the most competitive and enjoyable of the season.
"This race is always one of the funnest atmospheres on the whole World Cup circuit," Randall said. "It's an exciting course and people are just packed around the fences the entire way. They always have a band playing live on a stage right next to the trail, and you can feel the bass in your chest when you ski by."