Birthday-girl Kikkan Randall of Anchorage was part of a solid showing by the U.S. Ski Team in Saturday's first race of the seven-stage Tour de Ski.
Randall's 15th-place finish in the freestyle sprint marked her best result since her return to competition this season after the April birth of her son, Breck.
Randall, a three-time World Cup sprint champion who turned 34 Saturday, was one of five Americans — four women and one man — who made it to the quarterfinals in Val Mustair, Switzerland.
She placed third in her heat and just missed claiming one of the lucky-loser spots in the semifinals.
"Today definitely felt like another step forward toward getting my race sharpness back," Randall said by email. "My qualifier was decent and I felt like I had more punch in my quarterfinal. Tough to just miss the lucky loser spot because I was feeling stronger as I went and actually felt competitive for the first time this season.
"Still lots of racing ahead though so I am satisfied with today as a good start and am feeling good about the races ahead."
Jessie Diggins of Minnesota made it all the way to the women's finals, where she finished sixth. No one else made it to the semifinals. Vermont's Sophie Caldwell placed 13th, Randall 15th and Anchorage's Sadie Bjornsen 23rd. In the men's race, Simi Hamilton of Colorado placed 18th.
Three other Americans failed to advance to the quarterfinals, including Alaska Pacific University skiers Rosie Brennan (35th in qualifying) and Erik Bjornsen (64th).
The Tour de Ski — an arduous nine-day series with seven races in three countries — continues Sunday with a New Year's Day mass-start classic race in Val Mustair.
"Pop some confetti for us this evening," Randall said. "We'll probably be in bed early for tomorrow's race."