On Dec. 16 in Rybinsk, Russia, Kikkan Randall became the first American woman to win a cross-country event in a World Cup competition.
The victory made Randall, who was born in Salt Lake City and grew up in Anchorage, the first American to win a World Cup cross-country event since Bill Koch in 1983.
Randall outsprinted some of the best female cross-country skiers in the world to win the 1.2km freestyle sprint race, finishing ahead of the sprint world champion Astrid Jacobsen of Norway.
No American woman has ever won an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing. Koch won a silver medal in the 30K race at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.
"First and foremost this sport is about fitness," Luke Bodensteiner, the US ski team's Nordic director, said. "These athletes are among, if they are not, the world's fittest. The Europeans have long had an advantage because they come from a ski culture."
"For us, cross-country skiing has long been a family-oriented, healthy sport where you can get your kids outside in the winter and parents can ski side by side with them," he said.
Randall, a champion cross-country runner in high school in Alaska, embraced skiing as a way to stay in condition and keep her competitive fire stoked during the long and dark winter days in the Far North.
At 19, she made her Olympic debut in the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, finishing 44th in the first Olympic sprint.
Last year in Turin, Randall finished ninth in the sprint, the best Olympic result in cross-country skiing by an American woman.
"Being at the Games in Salt Lake really planted the seed for me," Randall said. "Then I felt strong in Turin.
"In Russia, I only wanted to ski my race, but then I was neck and neck with Astrid as we approached the only uphill climb. I passed her and was kind of waiting for her to come back at me, but she never did," he said.
Randall will join other members of the US team in Houghton, Michigan, for the national championships, with competition beginning on Tuesday.
"It's kind of a low-key event for an athlete of Kikkan's caliber," Bodensteiner said. "The World Cup is really where it's at."
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