Randall skis to gold for second straight week

Beth Bragg
Kikkan Randall from the U.S., followed by Canada's Perianne Jones and Russia's Svetlana Nikolaeva, compete during the World Cup Cross Country Ski 1.5km Sprint Free event in Szklarska Poreba, Poland, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014.
Alik Keplicz
Kikkan Randall from the U.S. raises hands as she wins the Women's World Cup Cross Country Ski 1.5km Sprint Free event in Szklarska Poreba, Poland, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014.
Alik Keplicz
Second placed Germany's Denise Herrmann, left, the winner Kikkan Randall, center, from the U.S. and third placed Slovenia's Vesna Fabjan celebrate after the final run in the Women's World Cup Cross Country Ski 1.5km Sprint Free event in Szklarska Poreba, Poland, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014.
Alik Keplicz

The target on Kikkan Randall's back is getting bigger by the day.

Already a Winter Olympics medal favorite, Randall won her second World Cup sprint race in a row on Saturday to underline the fact that gold is hers for the taking next month in Sochi, Russia.

Randall won every heat to dominate the freestyle sprint race in Szklarska Poreba, Poland. In the six-woman finals, she finished the 1.5-kilometer course in 3 minutes, 8.89 seconds to claim a .25-second win over Germany's Denise Herrmann.

"The focus of the season has always been on getting in peak shape for the Olympics," Randall said in an email. "We planned to use these last two races and the next races in Toblach to sharpen my race gear and the plan seems to be working just as we had hoped.

"I'm really happy to be feeling healthy and strong with just three weeks to go now."

Randall, 31, skipped the grueling Tour de Ski in favor of using the holidays to train, and the strategy appears to be working. If a back injury suffered nearly three weeks ago is bothering her, it doesn't show.

The victory was Randall's 11th in World Cup competition in an international career that began not long after she graduated from East High.

She's headed to her fourth Olympics, and although she was among the medal contenders in 2010 and 2006 (placing ninth in the freestyle sprint in 2006 and eighth in the classic sprint in 2010), this time she's an overwhelming favorite.

The two-time reigning World Cup sprint champion, Randall has contended for the podium in nearly every freestyle sprint race in the last three years.

"It was great to see Kikkan once again in total control, making moves at will and ending up in the lead coming around the final corner into the finishing stretch each round," U.S. Ski Team coach Chris Grover said in a press release.

"Kikkan is making her own luck out there in each sprint and it has led to the kind of unbelievable consistency she has in skate sprinting."

Randall's prowess in sprinting has carried the U.S. team to unprecedented heights, galvanizing a squad that until recently was a mere afterthought at the World Cup and Olympic levels.

Four other U.S. women and one man advanced to Saturday's quarterfinals. Minnesota's Jessie Diggins joined Randall in the finals and placed fifth after spending much of the race in fourth place until crashing while coming onto the final corner. Vermont's Sophie Caldwell won the "B" final to place seventh overall.

For the men, Vermont's Andy Newell made it to the finals but crashed on the same corner as Diggins, Grover said.

"It was really fun to have so many teammates in the rounds today," Randall said. "The energy level on the whole team just jumps up a few notches and it's great to be able to talk strategy and encourage each other on."

Anchorage skiers Holly Brooks and Sadie Bjornsen -- both of whom have already secured Olympic spots -- did not compete.

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

 


By BETH BRAGG
bbragg@adn.com