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3 Anchorage women qualify for US Olympic XC ski team

Nathaniel Herz,Beth Bragg
U.S. Kikkan Randall celebrates winning the ladies World Cup sprint event at the Lahti Ski Games on Saturday, March 9, 2013 in Lahti, Finland. (AP Photo / Lehtikuva, Markku Ulander) FINLAND OUT - NO SALES
Markku Ulander

Three Alaska women have qualified for the American cross-country ski team for the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, which take place next month.

Kikkan Randall, Holly Brooks and Sadie Bjornsen earned their spots on the team in an initial selection process, based on an international points list. More selections are likely before racing starts in early February.

Randall, Brooks and Bjornsen all train with the Anchorage-based Alaska Pacific University club team. Randall and Brooks, both 31, competed in the 2010 Olympics in Canada; the 2014 Games will be the first for the 24-year-old Bjornsen.

"My dream since I was 5, and my goal since I was 7, is finally coming true!" Bjornsen wrote in a Facebook post Monday. "I can't wait to see what it feels like to both walk in to the opening ceremonies and race in an Olympic event representing my country. Fun times to come!"

Randall will be racing in her fourth Olympics and was essentially guaranteed a slot based on her success over the past year, which included winning a world title in the sprint racing discipline.

She said she was looking forward to competing in Russia with the "tight-knit group" from her Alaska Pacific University club.

"Those guys are my teammates all year round, and we all work hard together," Randall said in a phone interview from Switzerland, where she is wrapping up a training camp before returning to the international racing circuit this coming weekend. "It's great to be heading to the games with people you're familiar with."

Randall, Brooks and Bjornsen will join Anchorage curler Jessica Schultz at the Olympics, which begin Feb. 7. There are likely to be more Alaskans named to Olympic teams between now and then.

A handful of other APU skiers are in the running to make the nordic team -- among them, Sadie's brother Erik Bjornsen, who on Saturday won the 15-kilometer classic race at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in Utah.

Other solid contenders include Becca Rorabaugh, Rosie Brennan and Reese Hanneman, who have also earned medals at the ongoing national championships. The U.S. Ski Team could have slots for more than 15 nordic skiers in Sochi, although it is unclear whether it intends to. Chris Grover, head coach of the U.S. Ski Team, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Girdwood snowboarder Callan Chythlook-Sifsof, a 2010 Olympian, is a good bet to make the U.S. snowboarding team. Earlier this season, she collected a silver medal in the World Cup team snowboardcross race in Europe.

Kasilof's Jay Haakinen is bidding for his fifth Olympic spot in biathlon. He is no longer the star of the U.S. team, but he remains among its top several men. Anchorage's Jeremy Teela, who is vying for his fourth Olympics in biathlon, has been racing with the team this season as well.

Also harboring slim chances of making the team are slopestyle snowboarder Ryan Stassel and alpine skier Kieffer Christianson, both of Anchorage.

Stassel is among the world's top ranked competitors in slopestyle, which is making its Olympic debut. But the U.S. can only send two men, and one spot is likely to go to snowboarding superstar Shaun White, a newcomer to slopestyle but not to the Olympic podium.

Christianson earned a World Cup start in a giant slalom race earlier this season, but has not been a regular on the circuit. His presence on the team could very well depend on how many athletes the U.S. Ski Team can take.

Besides the three Alaskans, four other skiers were qualified for the nordic team as of Monday -- Jessie Diggins, Liz Stephen, Sophie Caldwell and Noah Hoffman. Three more skiers are expected to qualify based on their points after races this weekend.

 

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By NATHANIEL HERZ and BETH BRAGG
nherz@adn.com
Contact Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or on