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With Olympic skier Randall leading the way, World Cup prepares for baby boom

  • Author: Beth Bragg
    | Sports
  • Updated: August 2, 2016
  • Published August 2, 2016

Kikkan Randall skis during a training camp at Eagle Glacier last month. (Scott Jensen / Alaska Dispatch News)

A baby boom is about to hit the World Cup cross-country ski tour, and Anchorage's Kikkan Randall is helping to make sure the new mothers are welcomed back to competition – with their babies.

Thanks in part to Randall's efforts, the FIS – the governing body of international ski racing – has recommended a handful of changes that will accommodate new moms.

Chief among them: A room at every race venue where mothers can breastfeed their infants.

Randall, a three-time World Cup sprint champion and the mother of a 3½-month-old son, is cross-country skiing's female representative on the 13-member FIS Athlete Commission.

In that role, she started a conversation last year that prompted FIS Cross Country to create a couple of new policies and to make several recommendations to race organizers.

"I just know it's in their best interest to keep female athletes competing as long as they can," Randall said.

Especially if the female athletes in question are some of the sport's biggest stars.

Randall, a four-time Olympian and two-time World Championship medalist, is one of four women who intend to return to World Cup skiing this season after giving birth.

Another is the greatest female skier in history – Norway's Marit Bjoergen, a 10-time Olympic medalist and a 22-time World Championship medalist.

Others returning are Finland's Aino-Kaisa Saarinen, a three-time Olympic medalist, and Slovenia's Katja Visnar.

Smoothing the way for women who want to mix motherhood with world-class skiing makes sense, said Germany's Sandra Spitz, the event coordinator for FIS Cross Country.

"One of our main goal(s) is to develop the sport, and thinking forward is included in our vision," Spitz said in an email. "Cross-country skiers are nowadays mostly racing longer on the highest level."

It's likely that more and more athletes will want to combine family and career, she said, and the new policies and recommendations will allow them to extend their careers more easily.

"It is important that FIS Cross-Country encourages (new mothers) to continue their ski careers," the FIS wrote when presenting its recommendations to race organizers.

Kikkan Randall, left, discusses technique with coach Erik Flora during her first post-pregnancy training camp. (Scott Jensen / Alaska Dispatch News)

The FIS oversees all World Cup skiing — cross-country, alpine, snowboarding, freestyle, ski jumping and nordic combined. Cross country is leading the way on the new-mom front, largely because more than any other discipline, it produces athletes who compete well into their 30s and who therefore may want to start families before retirement.

At its annual meeting earlier this summer, the FIS agreed to provide each national cross-country team with an additional credential – one that will go to a caretaker who can be with the child while the mother is training and competing.

That's significant, Randall said, because the FIS limits how many staff members each team can bring to a race.

"For a team like Norway that always maximizes its staff, adding one more credential would be a big deal," she said.

Also a big deal is the recommendation that every race venue provides something akin to a family room, where mothers can breastfeed or otherwise care for their child.

For now, the provision of such a room is a recommendation, not a requirement. Randall hopes that after this season, it becomes a requirement.

Some race organizers worried that such a requirement would increase the cost of hosting a race, Randall said. She thinks they'll discover it's not much of a burden.

"If they're setting up tents or cordoning off rooms, one more is not a big deal," she said. "A lot of the organizers have said, 'Yeah, we can totally do that.' ''

At a training camp last month at Eagle Glacier, Randall used the women's bathroom at the training center to pump her breast milk.

"I was pumping every three or four hours, and I brought home six or seven bags with me," she said.

 
Kikkan Randall prepares a spinach salad at the Eagle Glacier training center. (Scott Jensen / Alaska Dispatch News)
 

Randall, 33, took last season off while pregnant with Breck, who was born April 14.

When she returns to her job this winter, she plans to take Breck with her. Most of Randall's season is spent in Europe, and a mix of relatives will take turns traveling overseas to help take care of Breck. Randall's husband, Jeff Ellis, works in marketing support for the FIS and will also be at every race.

Whether Breck sees much of the World Cup's other babies remains to be seen. The other new moms all live in Europe, so most of the time they can go home between race series if they choose. North American moms don't have that opportunity.

"I'm really curious to see what the Europeans do – whether they bring their babies on the weekend," Randall said. "They have the luxury of leaving them at home. There's no way I would be apart from Breck for that long."

 

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