Alaska women shine at world-class sporting events around globe

Anchorage Daily NewsDecember 8, 2013 

It’s not just a bumper-sticker slogan: Alaska girls really do kick you-know-what.

Competing at three world-class events around the globe, four women from the 49th state garnered a complete set of medals over the weekend.

In Montafon, Austria, Girdwood snowboarder Callan Chythlook-Sifsof earned a silver medal at the season-opening World Cup team snowboardcross race.

In Lillehammer, Norway, Anchorage nordic skiers Kikkan Randall and Sadie Bjornsen helped the United States to a bronze medal in the first World Cup relay race of the season.

And in Kansas City, Mo., Anchorage mixed-martial-arts fighter Lauren Murphy literally kicked butt, scoring a fourth-round TKO to win the Invicta Fighting Championship bantamweight world title. Her gold medal is a first for an Alaska MMA fighter.

Invicta is the world’s premier all-female MMA competition, just one step removed from the wildly popular UFC, which recently created a women’s division. 

Murphy, 30, won her pay-per-view bout when Miriam Nakamoto went down with a knee injury. According to a recap on the Invicta website, Nakamoto dominated early but Murphy answered late in the second round by bloodying her opponent’s nose. Murphy scored two takedowns in the third round, including one that may have injured Nakamoto. The referee stopped the fight 23 seconds into the fourth round.

“If she wants a rematch I’ll give it to her. I don’t think anyone wanted to see it that way,” Murphy said in the Invicta report. “I’m going to go home the champion and work even harder. I saw her nose was bloody and I could taste (the blood) in my mouth from where she hit me. Nothing gets me more excited for a fight than two people beating the (crap) out of each other.’’

Murphy started her career at Sullivan Arena, where she earned an AFC women’s title at 145 pounds. She has since dropped to the 135-pound division, and she has a new name. Formerly Lauren Taylor, she married AFC fighter Joe Murphy earlier this year.

Her last AFC fight was in January 2011, and it may be some time before she fights in Anchorage again.

“Lauren will not be fighting for the AFC anytime soon,” AFC manager Sarah Lorimer said. “She is on her way to the biggest show on earth — UFC, who just introduced women’s MMA.

“... This is just the tip of the iceberg for her.”

Murphy’s fight happened Saturday night in Missouri, around the same time Chythlook-Sifsof, Randall and Bjornsen were getting ready for Sunday morning races in Europe. 

Chythlook-Sifsof, 24, teamed up with three-time world champion Lindsey Jacobellis to claim second place in Montafon, which hosted the season-opening World Cup events for snowboardcross. Gold went to Italy’s Raffaella Brutto and Michela Moioli.

A 2010 Olympian, Chythlook-Sifsof was in the lead heading into the race’s final stretch when Moioli passed her to steal victory in a photo finish. 

“We were so close to the win,” Chythlook-Sifsof said in a release from the U.S. Ski Team. “I didn’t know how close the Italian girl was behind me and, coming into the straightaway, I had a little bobble and she just passed me.”

The silver medal was huge for an American duo that has spent significant time rehabbing in recent months. Chythlook-Sifsof, 19th in Saturday’s individual race, had knee surgery last spring to repair an ACL, and Jacobellis, seventh in Saturday’s race, is coming off a knee injury that shelved her for nearly two years.

“It feels pretty awesome to be back on snow,” said Jacobellis, who famously dropped from gold to silver at the 2006 Olympics when she hot-dogged in celebration before crossing the finish line and crashed. “I was freaking out and wasn’t sure I could put a whole course together and make it through. There were a lot of injuries out there so it was intimidating to think about racing. The night before I was having nightmares thinking of everything that could go wrong, and then I did my first warm up run and it was awesome. It was like nothing had changed.”

Sunday’s medal was one of dozens collected in World Cup racing over the years by Jacobellis, who is also a seven-time X Games medalist. 

It was the third for Chythlook-Sifsof, whose previous top-three finishes came in 2007 (silver) and 2011 (bronze). It’s her first medal in the team event, in which the second racer leaves the starting gate when the first racer crosses the finish line.

“I always think the team races are such a good vibe for the camaraderie,” she said. “I always do my best racing in the team events.”

In snowy Lillehammer, Randall and Bjornsen made up half of the bronze-medal relay team in a World Cup 4x5-kilometer mixed relay. Liz Stephen of Vermont and Jessie Diggins of Minnesota skied the other two legs. 

Randall, a three-time Olympian, had the Americans in the lead for much of the classic-technique scramble leg before Norway took control.

Norway claimed gold in 58 minutes, 38.9 seconds. Finland took silver in 59:52 and the United States was third in 1:00:15.4. 

A second U.S. team, featuring Anchorage skiers Holly Brooks and Rosie Brennan, placed 12th in 1:01:59.4.

“It was very fun to race today with lots of girls in the pack and two U.S. teams doing really well,” Bjornsen said in a U.S. Ski Team release. “It was a tough race where you had to fight in the snow.

“It was not perfect conditions and you knew that some things were going to be happening out there, maybe falls or maybe something in the snow that you can’t see from the stadium. It’s just really fun to not have perfect conditions and still be able to ski with those girls and really be in the fight with them.”

Among the falls was one by Diggins, who caught a tip and crashed on the final downhill. She broke a pole, but a member of Norway’s support staff gave her another one, allowing Diggins to finish and the Americans hold onto third place.

The bronze medal marked just the second time in history a U.S. women’s relay team has earned a World Cup medal. The first time was a year ago, and Randall was on that team too.

“It’s just so cool coming into today having the confidence from that result last season,” Randall said. “We know we can put together a good day. We can be not only in a play for the podium, but even moving up on the podium.”

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.

 

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