Kikkan Randall crept closer to coronation as the planet's best female sprint skier Sunday by claiming fifth place in a World Cup cross-country race in Lahti, Finland.
Randall, 29, has built an all-but-insurmountable lead in the sprint standings. With two races and 150 available points remaining this season, Randall has 604 points for a 138-point lead over second-place Natalia Matveeva of Russia, who was seventh Sunday.
The Anchorage star can clinch the World Cup crown Wednesday in a a race in Drammen, Norway.
"Psyched to do this all again in three days," she wrote in an email.
If Randall takes the season championship as expected, she would be the second American in history to claim a World Cup nordic title, joining Bill Koch, the legendary and revolutionary skier whose 1976 silver remains the country's only Olympic medal in the sport.
Randall's already historic season has been sparked by her strength as a freestyle skier. Sunday's race, held on a technical, hilly course, marked just the second time she has advanced to the finals of a classic sprint final, a promising sign given that the season's final races are both classic sprints.
"My classic sprinting has really improved this year," Randall wrote. "I still have some work to do but I'm happy with the progress."
Randall was coming off a 12th-place finish in Saturday's mixed-technique distance race. She's also coming off her second bout of the stomach flu -- she has been hopscotching across Europe and racing nearly every weekend since the season began in November -- but said she is feeling strong again.
"Definitely back to full capacity," she said, although she admitted to having a little less energy than usual in Sunday's final after a fast-paced semifinal.
Skiers pushed the pace from the start in the final too, Randall said.
"It was a super fast pace from the start and I tried to follow it, but I was much more tired than (in) the semi," she said. "I didn't ski the steep hill as well as I had been and missed a couple opportunities to challenge for 4th. But overall I gave what I had."
By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News