Alaska’s golden girl will leave the Sochi Games with neither gold, silver nor bronze. Kikkan Randall’s final bid to win a medal at the Winter Olympics flat-lined Wednesday, a day when the Anchorage skier offered no excuses and shed no public tears.
Randall, a four-time Olympian from Anchorage, teamed up with Vermont’s Sophie Caldwell to place eighth in the women’s classic team sprint, a race in which Randall had a slim shot at winning a medal.
It was Randall’s best finish at the Olympics, her sport’s once-every-four-years showcase. At no point did she come close to skiing like her normal self.
“It’s certainly not the Olympics I was hoping for,” Randall told fasterskier.com after the race, when she spoke candidly and at length about her Sochi setbacks.
“It’s a funny thing — it’s two weeks out of four years,” she said. “You hope to find the best shape you have ever had, and unfortunately for me, I missed the mark somehow. I am not sure quite why. Every race I come into, I’m hoping to turn it around. I just haven’t had the feelings that I’ve had in my races coming in.
“It’s not the way I wanted it to go, but I promised myself coming in that I wanted to give it everything I had, and I know I’ve done that.”
A gold-medal favorite in last week’s freestyle sprint, Randall was knocked out in the quarterfinals and finished 18th in her specialty, her worst freestyle sprint result in years.
In the women’s relay, the Americans were considered a medal threat but Randall lost contact with the leaders in the final kilometer of her 5-kilometer scramble leg and the team wound up finishing ninth.
Randall, 31, won a world championship in the team sprint last year in Italy, teaming up with Minnesota’s Jessie Diggins for the gold medal. But that was a freestyle-technique race, and the classic technique was used at the Olympics. Randall and the rest of the American women are, generally speaking, stronger skate skiers than they are classic skiers.
Randall, the two-time reigning World Cup sprint champion, came to Sochi with great expectations. She was vying to become the second American cross-country skier in history, and the first since 1976, to win an Olympic medal.
In Wednesday’s team sprint, Randall and Caldwell finished third in their semifinal heat and advanced to the final with the sixth-fastest time among 10 qualifiers. In the team sprint, skiers alternate legs on a 1.3-kilometer course, skiing three legs apiece in a brutal test of fitness. The finals started less than two hours after the semifinals ended.
Caldwell had the Americans in fourth place, 1.53 seconds behind the leaders, after the first leg of the finals.
But Randall fell off the pace on her first leg, tagging off to Caldwell in sixth place, 8.3 seconds behind. From there, the Americans fell deeper in the hole — they trailed by 15 seconds after the third leg, 25 after the fourth, 34 after the fifth and 44 seconds at the end.
Caldwell, a 23-year-old whose sixth-place finish in the sprint led the U.S. women in Sochi, said the pace was fast and relentless, and it got to the Americans.
“I think people just took off as hard as they could go right from the start, so it was a lot quicker pace than the semis,” she said, “... so it was a fight the whole time.”
Randall said her legs flooded with lactic acid early in the first of her three legs.
“I came into the final ready to chase, and knew that the pace was going to be hard,” she said. “Man, I felt flooded immediately going up that first hill. I just didn’t have the same pop that I had this morning.”
Pushing the pace was Marit Bjoergen, who powered Norway to the gold medal — her second at Sochi and the fifth of her career. She paired with Ingvild Flugstad to claim a 9.09-second win over silver medalist Finland. Sweden outsprinted Germany for the bronze, finishing 19.77 seconds behind Norway.
The win provided relief and redemption for Norway, the nordic powerhouse that was shut out of the medals in the men’s and women’s relays — a national disgrace. The Norwegians have struggled to explain why they faltered on the biggest stage in sports.
Randall said she doesn’t have an answer either.
“I mean, sports is all about — if it was an exact formula, everybody would be peaking,” she said. “And that’s probably what the intrigue is at the Olympics, is who is going to get it right and who is not.
“We tried the best we could. I’ve had a long career. ... We put together a plan that we really felt confident in. I think there has been some funny things with the venue and the snow that have ... kind of knocked us off (balance).”
“I think when you give it everything you had and you try hard, you have to be satisfied with that. The medals are nice and the results are great, but yeah, we gave it the best we had. I’m still going to walk away from this Olympics satisfied that we did that.”
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or call her at 257-4335. Daily News reporter Nathaniel Herz, in Sochi for the Daily News and fasterskier.com, contributed.
More Winter Olympics coverage
By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News