Anchorage's Kikkan Randall's bid for an Olympic medal in her best event came to a sudden and shocking end in the quarterfinals of the women's cross-country freestyle sprint on Tuesday.
Randall cruised through early qualifying, but came up short -- by seven-hundredths of a second -- at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Alaska's best-known Olympic athlete, Randall, 31, won the women's World Cup sprint title last year and represented the U.S. cross-country team's best shot at a medal at the Sochi Winter Games. But it could also be her last chance -- Sochi is Randall's fourth Winter Games. No Alaskan has ever competed in five. Randall is also expected to race in the team sprint, the women's mass start and the women's relay in these Olympics. Her best chance will likely be in the team sprint, on Wed., Feb. 19, at 12:15 a.m. Randall, along with U.S. teammate 22-year-old Jessica Diggins, of Minnesota, are the reigning world champions. The 4x10 kilometer women's relay takes place on Sunday, Feb. 15.
After coasting to a comfortable qualifying time in the 1.2-kilometer race's initial round -- she qualified 18th -- Randall pushed through the wet, sloppy snow to take an early lead in her quarterfinal heat. Randall led for almost the entire 1.3 kilometer race, pacing Norwegian superstar Marit Bjoergen, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, but faded as the skiers raced down the final straight to the finish line. Germany's Denise Hermann, who is the current world cup sprint leader, pulled past Randall over the last few hundred meters to finish first in the heat at 2:34:87. Bjoergen, then blew by, as well, placing second in the heat with a time of 2:35:42.
Randall seemed to take the disappointment in stride. In an Instagram post that she also pushed to Facebook and Twitter, she told fans "Really proud to represent the stars and stripes today. Didn't get a chance to fight for the medals but gave it everything. Now looking ahead to relays!"
"Sprints are really difficult; you have to make it through all four rounds to get to the medals," Randall told the New York Times. "It's a bummer. I've been waiting for this race for a long time."
Randall, born in Salt Lake City, Utah, moved to Anchorage in the mid-1980's where she was a sports star at East High School. But cross-country skiing wasn't even Randall's first choice for winter sports. She started out as an Alpine skier and was a track and running star in high school. Despite winning seven state track titles, including three in cross-country running, Randall never won a state championship in Nordic skiing. Randall had been vying to become only the second American athlete to win a nordic skiing medal -- in 1976 Bill Koch won silver in the men's 30 kilometer race.