Kikkan Randall is approaching a milestone — she turns 30 on New Year’s Eve — and on Saturday she celebrated another nice, round number.
Randall captured second place in a freestyle sprint race in Canmore, Alberta, to collect the 20th medal of her World Cup career.
After doing the heavy lifting for much of the final heat, including leading the way up a big hill on the 1.3-kilometer course, Randall saw gold slip away when Norway’s Maiken Caspersen Falla caught her just before the finish line.
The medal was the third in four races for Randall, a three-time Olympian from Anchorage. It’s her sixth medal of the season and the 20th since becoming a regular on the U.S. Ski Team at the 2002 Winter Olympics at age 19.
Eighteen of her medals have come in World Cup races and two have come at World Cup stage races, which are single-week mini-tours within the regular tour.
Randall dominated the morning preliminaries, posting the fastest time by nearly three seconds. She finished second in both her quarterfinal and semifinal heats and looked like she was on her way to victory in the final.
Falla stuck with Randall when Randall opened a gap on the rest of the six-woman final. She skied in Randall’s draft on a long downhill late in the race and then caught Randall in the final few meters to win by less than a ski length.
“I wasn’t quite sure how the strategy was going to play out with that downhill being so decisive with the draft,” Randall said in a statement from the U.S. Ski Team. “So I kind of went into the final not really sure what my strategy was going to be, but I wanted to get near the front and decided to just try to make a break over the top and see if I could break it up a bit.
“I had a little bobble just as we entered the lanes (approaching the finish line) and I just wish I would have stayed a little bit taller. But overall I’m super happy with it.”
Third place went to Celine Brun-Lie of Norway, which placed three skiers in the finals.
Randall was one of three U.S. women who also advanced from the preliminaries but the only American to make the finals. Ida Sargant of Orleans, Vt., made it to the semifinals and finished 10th on the days; Sadie Bjornsen, Randall’s teammate at the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center, and Sophie Caldwell placed 22nd and 23rd, respectively.
The U.S. men got a big race from Andy Newell of Shaftsbury, Vt., who made it to the finals and placed fifth. Sweden’s Emil Joensson took the gold medal.
With her finish, Randall tightened her grip on the World Cup sprint lead and moved into second place in the World Cup overall standings, which include sprint and distance results. Randall won last season’s sprint title.
Racing continues Sunday in Canmore, which hosted cross-country events at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Most of the Olympic trail system has since been rebuilt.
Sunday’s race is a skiathlon, a mixed-technique distance event. It’s the last World Cup race before the fifth annual Tour de Ski, a demanding event that begins Dec. 29 in Oberhof, Germany, and features seven races in three countries over nine days.
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG