Kikkan Randall: It's fun to finally be in the mix!

Kikkan Randall with her World Championship silver medal won in Liberec in 2009 foto:
Even though an american cross-country skier Kikkan Randall loves pink, she looks as well in silver and arguably so even better in gold. After a couple of years of breaking out this alaskan sportswoman  is finally close to the top, which in the future will make her a major contender for FIS World Championship and Olympic Games medals.  

You are a barrier-breaker, for no other American woman besides you ever won a medal (silver Medal at Nordic World Championship in Liberec in 2009) in cross-county skiing. How does that make you feel?

KR: It’s definitely exciting to be experiencing the results that I have always felt were possible for American skiers, and especially female American skiers.  It took many years to get to this point, much patience and determination, and it feels great for all the hard work to pay off.  Perhaps the most exciting result from my performances however, has been the new confidence and motivation that we are seeing in the entire women’s field in the US.  Now that our women know what is possible, they are working harder and dreaming bigger than ever before.

In this event you alone seem to carry the US Ski Team torch. How does it feel to go against mostly European competition? 

KR: While I may be the top US skier in the tour right now, I am still incredibly fortunate to have several teammates that are racing here as well.  It makes for such a positive and fun atmosphere to have a great team around me and it’s almost like having another family while I’m on the road.  I’ve also managed to make several friends on the other European teams.  So instead of feeling like an outsider, I really feel like I belong amongst the field over here.  I feel respected and competitive.  As North Americans, we have to deal with a very different lifestyle than the Europeans, being on the road and away from our homes so long, but I’ve learned to embrace this existence for half the year.

Why isn’t such a top-athlete producing giant as America able to showcase more talented cross-country female skiers? 

KR: Our biggest challenge in America is our culture for cross-country skiing.  We have so many other demands on our time and our talents, and there are so many opportunities to choose from.  To be successful in cross-country skiing requires a long term commitment of time and resources, and it may take several years before you really break through.  It’s a challenge for many skiers to financially support themselves and stay motivated long enough to make the breakthrough.

You have participated in 3 Olympic Games already and each time you’ve improved your result (44th in Salt Lake, 9th in Torino, 8th in Vancouver). Seems like in Sochi it’s time to finally win a medal? 

KR: Yes, I’ve been looking forward to Sochi for most of my career as the point at which I would finally have enough training and experience to be competitive to win Olympic medals.  I thought there would have been a chance in Vancouver, but my classic sprinting was not quite up to the same level as my skate sprinting.  In Sochi, I will have a shot at my favorite event, the skate sprint.  And, with my distance skiing improving and our team getting stronger, I hope to be competitive in the other events as well.

But a year before the Olympics you will participate in the World Championships in Val di Fiemme. Coincidentally the same place will host final two events of the 2012 Tour de Ski, in which you participate for the second straight year. Last year you came in 21st overall, this year you are doing much, much better... 

KR: It’s great to be back in Val di Fiemme again this year, as a chance to race on next year’s World Championship courses.  I actually raced at the World Championships here in 2003, when I was just beginning to get a taste of international racing.  My Tour de Ski has been going very well this year, a step forward from my first experience last season, and I am looking to make another step forward for the championships next year.

In Toblach, Kikkan came in second, behind Bjoergen.
This year "Tour de Ski" is really "Tour de Bjoergen and Kowalczyk". Why do these two dominate so much?

KR: Bjoergen and Kowalczyk are both tremendous competitors.  They have both been training at an exceptionally high level for a long time and I believe they are extremely talented and determined athletes.  We are all pushing our physical limits and they have been able to push one level higher.  Their capacity and ability is something we all work towards.  Their timing is now and I hope we (the rest of the field) can continue to improve, so that we may challenge them in the future.

You are doing an outstanding job as well - being 5th in the overall standings, only less than 2 minutes behind a 3rd place Johaug. Can you make that push in the final two events to climb into 3rd spot? 

KR: With two races to go, anything can still happen.  I have approached this Tour one race at a time and this will continue to be my strategy these next two days.  I want to bring out the best in myself and race with everything I have.  I believe I can be competitive in these last two races and make a really good challenge.

This seems to be your breakout year. You won sprints in Davos and Toblach, never finished lower than 8th in any other event of the 2012 World Cup. You’re only a couple of points behind Johaug in the overall Cup standings. Is this the best we’ve seen of Kikkan?

KR: I’ve really been improving every season since I began racing on the World Cup full time in 2006 and I believe I will continue to improve.  It’s a combination of training, experience, confidence and resources.  Every year builds upon itself.  Right now I am focused on giving my best in each race and know that if I do this, I can be competitive in the overall.  It’s fun to finally be in the mix!

In mid February there will be two World Cup events (sprint and 10km) in Poland. Will the Polish fans see you in Szklarska Poręba? 

KR: Yes, I am planning on racing in Szklarska Poreba and I am actually really looking forward to it.  I raced there in 2001 at the World Junior Championships and I have fond memories of a good venue and atmosphere.

Polish and Norwegian media talk a lot about a conflict between Bjoergen and Kowalczyk. How does it look from your perspective? 

KR: Personally, when I am around either Marit or Justyna, I don’t see the conflict.  I believe the media loves to hype controversy.  Both women are great competitors and are very gracious and easy to be around.

Kowalczyk openly talks about enhancement drugs used by Bjoergen, who suffers from asthma. Do you think that such drugs should be banned regardless of what condition they treat? 

KR: As someone that has not experienced the detrimental effects of suffering from asthma, I don’t feel qualified to answer this question.

Are you and Kowalczyk friends? What do you think of her? 

KR: Justyna has always been very friendly and easy to be around.  I would love the chance to get to know her better and do some training with her someday.

This season all media hype is pretty much focused on Bjorgen and Kowalczyk. Do you enjoy being in the shadow? Or you'd rather be in the spotlight, as you are in the US, where no other skier comes even close to you?

KR:  I'm pretty happy where I'm at right now.  I think Bjorgen and Kowalczyk are the big stars, and they deserve the spotlight.  I enjoy getting the spotlight a little more on sprint days, but otherwise it's kind of nice to be able to go through my routine without a bunch of cameras in my face and people dissecting my every move.  It is important to get good press back in the US however, so that we can keep promoting the sport and guarantee strong teams for the US in the future.

Plain and simple: who will win the FIS World Cup this year?

KR:   At this point, it's still hard to tell.  Bjorgen and Kowalczyk keep trading off strong days.  I think it will be a great battle to the end.  It's great to see such a competitive race.  I think it's great for our sport!  Both are great competitors!

Would you trade your silver medal from Liberec for bronze in Vancouver? 

KR: No way.  That silver medal in Liberec was so special.  Eight months before that race I had been laying in a hospital bed wondering if I would ever be able to ski race again.  When I set the goal to try and win a VM medal, it took my breath away just thinking about it.  The experience and the emotion that day in Liberec and what it has meant for our team and for American skiing has been invaluable and I wouldn’t trade it. I am confident that I am on the right track for Olympic success in the future, and that is due in part to winning that silver medal.

You specialize in individual sprint - in recent years you almost always finished in top 10 in this event. Why can’t you perform as well at longer distances? 

KR: I have never intentionally specialized in sprint. I believe my natural strengths are more suited for sprint events as I can produce a lot of power and speed over a short distance.  With my natural physiology, it has taken longer for me to develop my distance ability.  Every year I’ve been able to get a little stronger and it’s helped improved my sprinting as well.

Did having Olympians in your family help you in making a decision about devoting yourself to this sport? 

KR: Yes, having an aunt and an uncle that were Olympic skiers definitely helped me develop a passion for skiing early in life and also helped inspire my Olympic dreams.  It was really influential to have such accessible role models.  I also was fortunate to grow up in a community like Anchorage, Alaska, where winter sports were so supported and celebrated.

Kikkan loves pink, we love Kikkan!
Do you still work at Skinny Raven Sport? 

KR: Unfortunately with the demands of training and sponsors and working with the causes I support, there isn’t enough time to fit in selling running shoes as well.  I really enjoyed my job at Skinny Raven, getting to interface with the community and helping people to discover the joys of running and fitness.  My Skinny Raven co-workers are still close friends and I drop in to visit often.

What’s the most unlikely thing about you that people don’t know about? 

KR: Fact #1: If I wasn’t ski racing I would love to study computer science.  I love working with technological things.  Sometimes my friends call me a techno-weenie and always come to me with their computer issues.  I’d love to learn more!

Fact #2: When I was a little girl growing up, I hated pink.  Now, I can’t get enough of it!!

interview conducted on January 4th (before final two events of Tour de Ski): Tomek Moczerniuk
photos: World Wide Web

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