Don’t award her Olympic gold yet, but Anchorage’s Kikkan Randall delivered a statement Friday in the city that will host the Winter Olympics in one year’s time.
Randall dominated a World Cup freestyle sprint race in Sochi, Russia, winning her third race of the season, bolstering her World Cup lead in the sprint standings and further establishing herself as an early favorite for an Olympic medal.
Randall, 30, won each of her heats — final, semifinal and quarterfinal — decisively, by a stride or more, in an event that gave skiers their first taste of Sochi’s trails.
“Having a good performance here is a nice confidence boost going into next year,” she said in an email. “A few of the top World Cup sprinters were not here today, and different weather conditions might change the strategy for next time.
“But regardless, it’s really good to know the course now and know what I need to work on improving for the Olympics.”
Among the missing were World Cup stars Marit Bjoergen of Norway and Charlotte Kalla of Sweden. Stepping up big-time in their absence was the U.S. Ski Team, which landed five women in the top 21, two of them from Anchorage.
Ida Sargent placed a career-high sixth, Jessie Diggins finished 15th, Holly Brooks placed 16th and Sadie Bjornsen was 21st for the Americans. Brooks, who had the seventh-fastest qualifying time, and Bjornsen train with Randall in Alaska Pacific University’s nordic ski program.
Brooks, Sargent and Diggins wound up in the same quarterfinal heat, and Brooks lost a photo-finish with Diggins for third place, with Diggins advancing to the semifinals by one-hundredth of a second.
“I was disappointed to end the day after the quarterfinal but considering that it was my best qualifier and my best sprint final place to date, I’m really happy,” Brooks said in an email. “It’s awesome to have a good experience at the Olympic venue, on the Olympic course (or what we think is the Olympic course) and be able to leave here with a great vibe.”
Randall might leave Sochi feeling great, but she arrived feeling anything but — she came down with a chest cold as soon as she got to Russia.
“I spent the first three days here inside sleeping, resting and watching movies,” she wrote. “It was really hard not to be out skiing and checking out the courses. Finally started feeling a little better yesterday and got out for a tour around the sprint course.”
She said she felt better when she awoke on race day and was able to try different strategies on the snowy 1.4-kilometer course as she skied through her heats, something she hopes will help her at the Olympics.
“I’m glad it was snowing hard and difficult conditions today so that we could really test ourselves on this course,” Randall said. “The surroundings here really remind me of Alaska and I felt very comfortable in the snow today. The visibility was tough. I hope it’s better for the spectators’ sake next time.”
Randall and Brooks both praised the U.S. wax technicians, saying the Americans had some of the best glide on the course.
“My Salomon boards were rockets and I felt like I was able to hold my tuck quite long on the last downhill and save some energy for the final sprint to the line,” Brooks said.
Randall, who ranks third in the World Cup overall standings and first in the sprint standings, said she will skip Saturday’s skiathlon to make sure she is fully recovered from her cold.
The rest of the Americans, including Brooks and Bjornsen, are on the start list for the race, and Randall hopes to ski in Sunday’s team sprint.
“I think it was really good for our team to come to this event and be able to check out the surroundings and get comfortable here,” she said. “We really pride ourselves on being able to adapt to any situation and it seems like this place is already good luck for us.
“Everyone has been super welcoming and I think Sochi is going to be a great Olympics.”
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News