March 07, 2012 (Drammen, Norway) – The USA’s Kikkan Randall clinched the Sprint Cup globe on Wednesday in Drammen making history as the first American women to win a World Cup overall title also marking the first overall title for the USA in 30 years – since the legendary Bill Koch won the men’s overall in 1982.
It was a bitter-sweet day for the Alaska skier – “…more on the sweet side,” laughed Randall – as she suffered equipment failure in her semi final round that ended her day early.
“I was in a really low tuck, trying to catch back up to the leaders after getting blocked out of the track on the uphill by Jacobsen, and lost my balance for a second,” explained Randall. “When I went to catch myself, my binding just tore off my ski and I fell. With my binding totally disengaged, all I could do was pick up the wreckage and keep skiing on one foot.”
Still her 11th place finish was more than enough for the 29-year-old native of Anchorage, Alaska, and a lifelong Fischer skier, to secure the overall Sprint Cup victory and enter the record books.
Randall qualified 10th behind Canada’s Chandra Crawford in 9th and just ahead of Canuck Daria Gaiazova in 11th. It was also a great day for American Sadie Bjornsen who placed 16th. In fact all four women were destined to have best-ever results when the dust finally settled in Drammen.
Bjornsen was the first to get eliminated as she tangled with another skier in her heat and could not regain contact with the lead group, but earned her first CL sprint WCup points ever finishing 27th on the day. “The qualification went really well. I’ve been feeling fit and in a good place for a couple weeks now,” said Bjornsen. “I had great skis, racing on an entirely new pair I had never seen before. Unfortunately in my 1/4-final I got tangled with a Norwegian girl…regardless, I came away super happy because I got my first world cup point AND my teammate had secured the crystal globe.”
Gaiazova lined up against Bjoergen and Randall in her quarter final and grabbed third behind Randall with the Norwegian taking the win. This strong placement allowed her to advance to the semis as one of the Lucky Losers.
Meanwhile Crawford was turning heads with her race face on as she challeged Kowalczyk for supremacy on the course in her quarter-final yielding to the Polish star but advancing just the same.
Again Crawford drew Kowalczyk’s heat in the semis and again the Polish queen charged to the front taking no prisoners. But Crawford was not ready to be dispatched so easily and skied smart and strong to claim second behind Kowalczyk again to make the final.
Bjoergen, Randall and Gaiazova were a trio as well in their semi but fate was not in Randall’s favour as she found herself in need of a ski along the way while Gaiazova gave her all and came away with her best-ever classic-sprint race result finishing 8th.
In the final corner before the finishing straight she caught Crawford who was running out of steam and regained third which she held to the end as Bjoergen claimed the win with Jacobsen second. Crawford finished the classic sprint with a career-best 5th.
“I was not expecting it to go that well,” said Crawford in a team release. “I have been relentless on improving my classic skiing. My stride has opened up and is much longer. I am very happy, but more excited to see Lenny get on the podium today. It couldn’t happen to a better guy and I’m so happy for our program.”
“It was tough but I learned a lot and it was the right strategy to stay in Europe as the focus was the Sprint Cup and of course I’m happy that it worked out. Going forward with the World Championships and planning for the Sochi Olympics we’ll see what’s best,” said Randall.
We wondered how important it was for Randall to have a great team of US women around on the WCup scene with Liz Stephen, Jessie Diggins, Holly Brooks, Sadie Bjornsen, and Ida Sargent…
“It’s been really important to have a great team around me this season. Spending the whole winter in Europe, away from home has been challenging at times. But the girls have helped me keep it fun and positive and it’s been great to be able to celebrate some of their achievements as well. I also have to credit the guys on our team and of course our staff.
“Everybody has worked incredibly hard and been upbeat through all the highs and lows. My team is my family on the road,” Randall told SkiTrax. “It’s also great to see the respect we receive as a team over here now.”
“I really wanted to bring my classic sprinting up to the same level as my skate sprinting so I put some more emphasis in my training on double-poling and classic specific intervals. But I think just the general increase in my capacity and fitness this year is also really helping me,” she added.
Randall is also fourth overall in the WCup standings in a battle with Charlotte Kalla from Sweden. “Kalla and I are good friends now and it’s great to be in the mix for a top spot in the overall. We’re both looking forward to the next races.”
Speaking of family we caught up with Randall’s husband Jeff Ellis for his impressions of Kikkan’s stellar day. “It’s a relief,” Ellis told us. “It was her goal all year. She worked hard for this in the offseason. Incredible to see it pay off.”
For US Head Coach Chris Grover it was great to see Bjornsen and Randall attain even higher ground. “A breakthrough day for Sadie. Really cool to finally see her in the points. Of course she had some bad luck getting tangled up in her quarterfinal, but she skied really well for her first ever Drammen city sprint. We are excited to see what she can do at Holmenkollen on Sunday.
“Kikkan looked incredible today. She appeared to be on her way to the final when she got tangled up and broke her binding. The fact that she has won the Sprint Cup globe has not quite sunk in yet.”
The final word on this memorable day goes to Bill Marolt, President and CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, “Kikkan’s perseverance towards a goal over many years of hard training shows what a great athlete she is. At the same time she’s brought a great personality to her sport and served as a role model for young athletes.
“Our U.S. athletes across many sports are celebrating World Cup titles this month. This one is very special coming amidst rising results by Kikkan’s teammates who have been motivated by her success.”