Kuusamo is a mystical landscape in northern Finland for the Ruka Triple nordic openers where Kikkan Randall scored a personal best classic sprint to open on Friday.
KUUSAMO, Finland (Nov. 25) – The U.S. Ski Team's Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) scored a career best classic sprint finish, coming in fourth in the first stage of the Ruka Triple in Kuusamo, high up on the Arctic Circle of Finland. Qualifying 15th, Randall powered through to the finals after beating Poland's Justyna Kowalczak to the line in the semi-finals. Norway's Marit Bjoergen took the win with Randall 4.5 seconds out in the sprint final. Andy Newell qualified 19th but lost out in the first round of heats. Saturday's second stage of the Ruka Triple will feature 10k/5k freestyle race before concluding Sunday with a pursuit.
Career best classic sprint finish for Kikkan Randall, beating previous best seventh.
Randall was second to Sweden's Charlotte Karla in the opening heat.
Facing Norway's Marit Bjoergen in the semi-finals, Randall held off Poland's Justyna Kowalczak for second in the semi-finals.
Andy Newell qualified 19th but failed to make it out of the opening heat.
Randall and Newell were the only Americans to qualify for finals.
Newell was 19th behind winner Teodor Peterson of Sweden.
Action continues Saturday and Sunday in the three-day mini stage race the Ruka Triple
QUOTES Kikkan Randall Qualifying: After not qualifying for the heats in the last three Kuusamo classic sprint races, I was really psyched to get that monkey off my back by qualifying in 15th. I started as bib #1 so there was no one to follow or watch how they skied the line. I just had to hammer on my own. I think I skied a pretty solid qualifier. I know there are a couple sections that I could have skied better and the snow was so fast today that the course went by super fast. But I was happy to get a solid effort out of myself and have a chance to go into the rounds.
Best Classic Sprint: I am super satisfied with my best ever classic sprint result and first final, but also a little bummed to have just missed out on a podium. I'll be looking to keep this momentum going into the next two days!
Heats: Every heat was tough but I was able to come on strong over the climb and in the finish stretch to advance through the quarters and semis. In the final I had a poor start and had a lot of ground to make up on the climb. I was still coming on strong in the final stretch but made a couple bobbles and lost my momentum trying to catch third place.
Tough Quarterfinal: I drew a pretty tough quarterfinal with Bjoergen, Kowalczyk and Saarinen. I was sitting in fourth coming into the big climb . After starting behind Saarinen, I switched tracks and followed Kowalczyk over the top. I pushed super hard off the final turn and had a serious drag race with Justyna. I was just able to hold her off and advance to the semis.
Semi: In the semis I was also in the middle of the pack coming into the hill and then moved up into third coming over the top. I accelerated hard out of the final turn again and passed Skofterud on the final stretch to advance to the finals. It started snowing just as we finished the semis.
Final: In the final I had a poor start and lost some ground on the pack on the downhill. I made a little back through the woods but lost touch with the four ahead. Bjoergen and Kalla got away. I was able to bridge back up to Skofterud and Kylloenen over the top of the hill. I accelerated hard out of the turn again but had a confused couple of moments when I saw Skofterud striding. I tried a couple of strides but lost my momentum. And couldn't quite get back up to Skofterud.
It was a fun sprint today. The snow was fast and every round was a super hard anaerobic effort. I was happy to feel strong and have good skis.
Course: The track was really fast and pretty glassy on the downs and flats which made it very unstable. On the climb, the track broke down a little bit which made for good kicking conditions on klister. I think we went with a thin layer of klister. When it started snowing for the final, I think they added a little hard wax over the top.
Looking Ahead: I am taking this mini-tour one day at a time. I was psyched to have a strong start today and now I will look forward to laying out two more hard efforts in the distance races. I want to race like I did last weekend and push myself to go for more top tens. At this point, all I want to do is put another bib on and go for it!
Head Cross Country Coach Chris Grover Kikkan looked great all day - smooth and quick. She skied tactically very well; finding an open lane and getting around other athletes when they fatigued or slowed. A classic sprint podium is now within her reach. She has become a legitimate threat in every discipline on the World Cup.