Anchorage’s Kikkan Randall won America’s first world championship in the history of cross-country skiing Sunday.
Randall teamed up with Jessie Diggins of Minnesota to capture victory in the team sprint at the Nordic World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
“It’s so incredible just seeing that clean snow in front of me and crossing the (finish) line,” Randall told reporters after the race. “When your teammate comes running out and it sinks in that you’re a world champion, it’s incredible.”
This is the second time Randall, 30, has earned a medal at the world championships. In 2007, she became the first American woman to win a world championship medal of any color by taking silver in the individual sprint.
Randall and Diggins were among the frontrunners throughout the 6x1.2-kilometer freestyle race. They took control with a bold move by Diggins on the fifth of the six legs.
Diggins, 21, attacked the steepest hill on the course so fiercely that she broke a pole when she reached the top, according to a report from the FIS, the international governing body of ski racing. A U.S. coach
was at the top of the hill and was able to supply Diggins with a new pole.
The uphill assault allowed Diggins to break away from Sweden and Finland and give Randall a decent lead for the final leg. Randall, the World Cup sprint leader, controlled the action on the sixth leg to seal the historic victory.
“Anytime you’re skiing with the best sprinter in the world, it’s like, all right!” Diggins told reporters. “I just tried to get her in the best spot I could.”
Diggins said she felt like the race was theirs when she tagged off to Randall for the final time. “I had absolute confidence,” she said.
The result marked the third time Randall and Diggins have teamed up for a medal. In December, they won a World Cup team sprint in Quebec, and in January 2012 they took silver in a team sprint in Milan, Italy.
In December 2011, Randall and Sadie Bjornsen, who trains with Randall at Alaska Pacific University, grabbed the silver at a World Cup team sprint in Duesseldorf, Germany.
On Sunday they were joined on the victory podium by the silver-medal team from Sweden and the bronze medalists from Finland. In the men’s race, gold went to Russia.
With the gold, Randall has inched closer to surpassing the legendary, innovative Bill Koch as the Michael Jordan of American cross-country skiing.
A three-time Olympian, Randall won last’s overall World Cup sprint title, she leads this season’s World Cup sprint standings, she has multiple World Cup medals and she has lifted the U.S. Ski Team to unheard-of heights in a sport dominated by Europeans.
All that she lacks is an Olympic medal -- the one treasure, perhaps, that keeps Koch in his perch as America’s best.
Koch’s silver medal from the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, remains the only country’s only Olympic medal in nordic skiing. Koch revolutionized skiing by popularizing the skating technique -- before him, every race was contested using the classic technique -- and his prowess with the technique carried him to the 1982 World Cup overall title and a bronze medal at the 1982 world championships.
Randall is expected to contend for an Olympic medal next year in Sochi, Russia, where in World Cup races earlier this season she won the gold medal in the freestyle sprint.
Though this is her second medal at the world championships, Randall went without a medal at the 2009 and 2011 worlds, so she knows how rare this achievement is.
“This is my seventh world championships,” she said, “and I’ve spent a lot of time watching awards ceremonies. So we’re pretty excited, and to do it in a team event especially.”
By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News