Kikkan Randall's baby-on-board ski season became a bronze-on-board season Thursday at the Nordic World Ski Championships.
Randall, the Anchorage woman who returned to competition this season with her baby son as a travel companion, captured the bronze medal in the women's freestyle sprint.
"It's very encouraging to know it's only been 10 months and I've been able to come back to top form," Randall said in a release from the U.S. Ski Team. "I was able to train well through my pregnancy and it's great to see it all come together here."
It was a huge day for Randall and her teammates. Jessie Diggins of Minnesota grabbed the silver medal to give the U.S. Ski Team a 2-3 finish in the first race of the championships in Lahti, Finland. Sophie Caldwell of Vermont also made the six-woman finals, finishing sixth.
Among those in the crowd was 10-month-old Breck Randall Ellis, who had some quality time with his mom earlier in the day.
"It was a different day of preparation for me before I went to the heats," Randall said. "After breakfast, I came home and did some laundry, put our son down for a nap, then loaded him onto the bus to the venue.
"During the race he was touring around with my dad. It was a different kind of day but it helped me stay calm."
It's the third World Championship medal for Randall, 34. In 2009, she became the first U.S. woman to medal at worlds by claiming second place in the freestyle sprint. In 2013, she helped the U.S. to its first gold medal by winning the team sprint with Diggins.
Her latest medal was the result of some serious grit.
Randall was the top U.S. qualifier in the morning, placing 10th. In her quarterfinal heat, she finished fourth, but was bumped up to third when officials ruled that Switzerland's Laurien van der Graaf obstructed Randall when Randall attempted to pass her on a narrow stretch of the course.
In her semifinal, Randall was in fourth place coming into the stadium and had just moved inside to pass two skiers ahead when those skiers crashes. Randall shot through a gap and wound up finishing second to move into the finals.
In the finals, Randall caught Hanna Falk of Sweden in the final 100 meters to secure her bronze medal.
"I was really impressed with Kikkan's climb up the tunnels in both the semis and the finals," said U.S. Ski Team coach Chris Grover. "We saw her return to her V1 form of 2012-14 when she would make decisive moves on the steep uphills.
"Obviously, the key to this course is how the athlete navigates the final downhill draft and slingshot and how they negotiate the final stadium corner and maintain momentum. Kikkan's experience and track-craft was crucial in those critical moments."
Thursday's result was the best of the season for Randall, who took last season off while pregnant with Breck, who turns 1 in April. When she returned to World Cup competition at the start of the winter, Breck went with her.
Randall has made slow but steady progress in her comeback season. A three-time World Cup sprint champion, she didn't make it out of the qualifying round in her first two sprints of the season, placing 52nd in the first and 58th in the second. In her third sprint, she placed 29th in the qualifying round to grab one of 30 spots in the quarterfinals and wound up 15th.
She made it to the finals in a freestyle sprint in Sweden at the end of January and then battled her way into the semifinals last week in Estonia, where she finished ninth.
"I was not so optimistic after a few World Cups that today was possible," she said. "I had a slow start to the season and I needed to be patient."
The patience paid off. A three-time World Cup champion and a regular on the podium before her pregnancy, Randall found her way back to the medals stand to become America's first mom with a medal.
"We knew it would take time, and Kikkan was the first to admit that she would need to ski her way into the season by building race fitness," Grover said. "We are all so proud of her for having the steadfast patience to stick to her plan and to be mentally resilient in the face of early results that were not representative of her potential.
"It's been a big load for her to be a mom on the World Cup road all winter and she's managed it with grace and patience."
An earlier version of this story did not include details of Randall's first two sprint races of the season.