With exactly one month to go before the most anticipated race of a stellar career, Anchorage's Kikkan Randall showed the world she's ready for the Winter Olympics.
Randall, 31, won her 10th World Cup race Saturday at Nova Mesto, Czech Republic, pulling away near the end of a 1.6-kilometer freestyle sprint race.
The freestyle sprint is Randall's specialty, the event that carried her to the last two World Cup sprint titles. On Feb. 11, at 1 a.m. Alaska time, the freestyle sprint preliminaries begin in Sochi, Russia, where Randall will be among America's best medal hopes.
The race marked Randall's return to competition after a long holiday break. She skipped the arduous Tour de Ski, which challenges skiers with seven races over nine days, in order to train for Sochi.
"It's good to be back racing again," she said by email. "After taking a three-week training break over the holidays I was anxious to get back into the World Cup groove again.
"... It was definitely hard to sit out of the Tour de Ski this year, but today's race confirms it was the right decision for my Olympic prep. I'm looking forward to a couple more races in the next few weeks to keep sharpening my form."
Randall's win came in front of a roaring crowd. Between the noise and shadows on the course from stadium lights, she said it was hard to know how much of a lead she had in the final meters of the 1.6-kilometer race.
"In the final I was leading up the last climb and put in a surge over the top of the hill," she said. "It was pretty loud and there were lots of shadows from the lights so I couldn't tell if the others were right on my tails. I pushed all the way to the line and was really happy to take the victory."
Randall did a little victory dance at the finish, a celebration of her 1.69-second victory over Switzerland's Laurien Van der Graaff. Taking bronze was Norway's Ingvild Flugstad, who was nearly two seconds behind Randall's time of 2:44.04.
Among those losing to Randall was World Cup sprint leader Denise Herrmann of Germany. Randall beat her in the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.
The victory was Randall's 13th gold medal in world-class competition. Besides her 10 World Cup victories, she and Jessie Diggins of Minnesota combined to win a world championship last season in the team sprint, plus Randall owns two victories in World Cup stage races.
Every time she collects a medal, Randall makes U.S. history. No American nordic skier has won more World Cup races than her and none can match her two world championship medals (Randall claimed silver in the freestyle sprint at the 2009 world championships).
All she lacks is an Olympic medal. In the long history of the sport, only Bill Koch, who revolutionized cross county skiing by pioneering the skate-skiing technique Randall excels at, has earned an Olympic medal for the United States, capturing silver in 1976.
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG