American Randall wins World Cup sprint XC ski title
Kikkan Randall added a World Cup crystal globe to her stash and carved out another slice of history for the U.S ski team, becoming the first American in 30 years to win a cross country championship by clinching the overall sprint title.
And she did it with room to spare. Randall's 11th-place finish at a race in Norway on Wednesday secured the championship with one race left this season.
"The sprint overall World Cup was my goal and focus all season," the 29-year-old from Anchorage, Alaska, said. "It's been a long season, a lot of racing and it's been an exciting competition to the end. But I am happy to finally secure it now."
In 2007, Randall was the first American woman to win a gold medal in a World Cup race and the first American, man or woman, to win any event in 24 years. She also won the first American women's world championship medal and, with her eighth-place finish in Vancouver, is the first U.S. woman to finish in the top 10 at the Olympics.
She now has five World Cup victories.
"The fact that she won the sprint globe has not quite sunk in yet," said her coach, Chris Grover.
America's last World Cup title came in 1982 when Bill Koch won the overall.
Koch won a silver medal at the 1976 Olympics, but since he left the sport, a lack of funding and training expertise led to a gradual decline into near irrelevance for the U.S. program.
A key turning point came about a decade ago, when Luke Bodensteiner stopped competing and went to work at the U.S. Ski Team. He pushed to have grass-roots clubs take a larger role in developing athletes. The idea worked; one place it worked especially well was in Anchorage, where Randall chose cross country skiing over running as her main sport, then joined a local club - Alaska Pacific University Nordic - which started her on a training regimen that could produce a champion.
This year, she focused on bringing her classic sprinting up to the same level as her skate sprinting.
"So I put more emphasis in my training on double-poling and classic specific intervals," Randall said. "But I think just the general increase in my capacity and fitness this year is also really helping me."
Randall's success has been part of a larger renaissance for America's efforts in cross-country and Nordic skiing. Led by Bill Demong's gold medal in the Nordic 10 km large hill and a silver medal in a team event at the 2010 Olympics, the United States is slowly grabbing a toehold in a sport long dominated by Norway, Sweden, Germany and other European countries.
"There are high-profile races going on in front of bigger crowds in America. It's not just 50 skiers going by once in the woods anymore," Randall said in a 2007 interview, helping explain how the sport could become more popular in the U.S. "The more people start to see it, the more they get into it. It's a lifetime sport. People can identify with it at all levels."
Randall won back-to-back races to open the season and held the lead in the standings throughout.
She plans on finishing out the World Cup season at a race in Stockholm next week, then racing in some invitational meets before coming back to the United States.