Showing she can take a licking and keep on ticking, Anchorage's Kikkan Randall recovered from a crash in the finals to power her way back into contention and claim the bronze medal Friday in a World Cup freestyle sprint race in Szklarska Poreba, Poland.
Randall tangled with Russia's Natalia Matveeva early in the race and went tumbling to the ground as the lead pack pulled away. She closed a sizeable gap to catch the leaders and mistimed her finish-line lunge in an attempt to grab second place.
The effort drew raves from her U.S. Ski Team coach.
"Her podium today was an amazing performance," Matt Whitcomb said in a press release from the ski team. "While she wanted this win badly, she was all smiles -- vintage Kikkan. Having her back to form is a victory."
Randall is coming off an illness that she battled for two weeks and kept her out of races last weekend. But she said she felt good today and posted strong wins in the quarterfinal and semifinal heats to prove it.
"While I wanted to win today, and felt I was in the shape to do so, I am satisfied with my result knowing I gave everything I had," Randall said in an email. "It was unfortunate to have the crash, but I was glad that I was able to ski my way back into contention. After having to sit out the races last weekend and struggling with sickness the last two weeks, it felt good to be back in form."
The performance, which landed her on the podium for the seventh time this season, expanded Randall's World Cup sprint lead over Matveeva from 109 points to 129 points. The race marked the last time this season Randall will ski her best event; the remaining three sprints are all classic technique races
If she can hold onto her lead till the end of the season, Randall will become the first American woman and the second American ever to claim a World Cup season title. The only American so far to pull off that feat is Bill Koch, who won the overall World Cup title in 1982.
Randall's bid for her third victory of the season was foiled about 200 meters into the 1.6-kilometer final when she and Matveeva crossed skis and both skiers crashed.
"For a split second I couldn't believe this was happening," Randall wrote, "but then I jumped back up determined to try to catch back up. Luckily all of my equipment was in tact. I had to work pretty hard but I was able to catch the pack right as we headed up the climb. I knew I still needed to move up so I tried to make a move up the outside. Towards the top of the hill, the others responded and we all pushed hard over the top. Four of us were tightly packed heading down the stadium, I stayed to the inside so I could make a move off the last downhill.
"I managed to glide up towards the front off the final turn and came into the homestretch with a chance to win. But when I went to switch into my finishing gear, I didn't have my full power left and I couldn't fight off (gold medalist Ida Ingemarsdotter of Sweden and silver-medalist Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway) who were closing hard. I mistimed my lunge at the finish as well, loosing the photo finish for second with Falla. I think that early surge to catch back up drained my finish power."
Ingemarsdotter won in 3 minutes, 23.7 seconds. Calla and Randall were both timed in 3:23.8.
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News