In her final race before the Winter Olympics, Anchorage's Kikkan Randall gambled and lost.
A medal favorite in the freestyle sprint, Randall placed fifth in her specialty Sunday in Toblach, Italy, yielding the top spot of the podium -- a place she's been three times this season -- to Norway's great Olympic champion, Marit Bjoergen.
"Today was another solid day," Randall, a four-time Olympic, said in an email. "My performance was strong through all the rounds; I just didn't employ the right tactics in the final."
Randall skied to the fourth fastest time in the qualifying round and won her quarterfinal and semifinal, but her decision to try a new strategy in the six-skier final backfired.
"In the quarters and semis I was able to ski in second most of the course and then come out of the draft to get the lead before the final corner," she said, adding:
In the final I tried a different tactic, trying to break up the pack with a surge over the building. The move was okay, but I didn't get away enough and then up the next hill I hesitated not wanting to lead into the downhill. I ended up not carrying enough momentum into the downhill and got stuck in the middle of the pack.
Randall was the only American in the final but four of her teammates advanced to the semifinals, including Anchorage's Holly Brooks, who seems to be headed in the right direction after escaping Europe and spending about a week in Utah and Colorado last month.
Brooks finished 29th, Sophie Caldwell placed 19th and Jessie Diggins 28th.
Randall, the World Cup's two-time reigning sprint champion, is an overwhelming favorite to win a medal in Sochi, Russia -- Sports Illustrated predicts gold for the East High graduate. The opening ceremonies are Friday, and the freestyle sprint is four days later.
Randall didn't sound dismayed by her fifth-place finish.
"While I'm definitely bummed not to have been in the fight for the win in the final stretch, I am happy with the way I felt today and I probably learned more from the way the race played out," Randall said. "With such a long straight downhill before the finish, this was a very tactical course and a very different course from Sochi."
By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News