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Bjornsen matches World Cup career-best; Randall 16th

Beth Bragg

Sadie Bjornsen is enjoying a classic start to the Olympic season.

Limited last season by back and foot injuries, the Alaska Pacific University skier is crushing it this season, showing again on Saturday that she is in fine form as the World Cup season begins.

Bjornsen, 24, grabbed seventh place in a 10-kilometer classic race in Lillehammer, Norway, leading three American women into the top 30. Anchorage's Kikkan Randall placed 16th and Minnesota's Jessie Diggins finished 30th.

Bjornsen's result matched the career-best seventh-place finish she registered in a 5-K classic race last weekend in Finland. Both of those results, plus a quarterfinal appearance in the season's first sprint race, came in classic-technique races, which is Bjornsen's strength.

"I've been lucky because there's been all of this classic racing at the beginning, and what better way to get some confidence than to do your favorite events from the start?" Bjornsen said in a release from the U.S. Ski Team. "I know where I need to work with skating, and having some confidence in knowing that I have the fitness is great because I know I can do the skating."

Bjornsen, who is from Winthrop, Wash., but lives and trains in Anchorage, is shooting for her first Winter Olympics appearance, and she couldn't have asked for a better start to the season. Back-to-back seventh-place finishes put her ninth in the World Cup distance rankings and 15th in the World Cup overall rankings.

She's in a much better place than a year ago, when a back problem and tendinitis in her foot kept her away from World Cup competition for the first half of the season. Once she joined the tour, she shined, getting her first top-10 World Cup individual result and helping the U.S. women's relay team claim fourth place at the world championships.

Poland's Justyna Kowalski won Saturday's race in 24:59.4. Bjornsen clocked 26:17.7 and Randall 26:49.8. Two other APU skiers also raced -- Rosie Brennan, fifth among Americans, was 54th (28:29.5) and Holly Brooks, sixth and last among Americans, was 65th (29:09.9).

With the result, Randall, 30, moved to fifth in the World Cup overall rankings and 10th in the World Cup distance rankings.

"I felt like I had good energy out there but wasn't able to ski as technically well as I wanted," Randall said in an email. "I skied an even pace but I still can't quite seem to find that real aggressive race gear. I was hoping for a little better today but it was still a solid race. I think this will be the perfect preparation for the relay tomorrow."

Sunday is a big day for the Americans -- they are expected to be in the hunt for a medal in the women's relay race. The top American team is bound to include Randall and Bjornsen.

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.


By BETH BRAGG
bbragg@adn.com