Kikkan Randall came back from a crash early in the finals heat to finish third in Szklarska Poreba, Poland. (USSA-Matt Whitcomb)
SZKLARSKA POREBA, POLAND (FEB. 17) - World Cup sprint leader Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) powered her way back into the race to finish third after an early crash in the finals. Sweden's Ida Ingemarsdotter took the win - her second of the season - as Randall extended her World Cup lead in the final skating sprint of the season. Canadian Devon Kershaw won for the men. Randall now has a 129 point lead in the battle for the World Cup sprint red leader's jersey.
Kikkan Randall overcame a 10-meter deficit after a finals crash to finish third. Randall won both her quarterfinals and semifinals heats.
Randall tangled with Russia's Natalia Matveeva shortly into the finals, with both going. Randall never gave up and actually skied back up to the pack and into the lead before succombing in the final straight.
Randall grew her World Cup sprint lead to 129 points over Matveeva with three classic sprints remaining. Norway's Maiken Caspersen Falla, finishing second, moved into third in the sprint standings.
Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) led the USA in qualifying in 12th and finished 23rd.
Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) was 22nd and Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) 29th as the USA put four into the points.
Huge crowds packed the stadium in Szklarska Poreba to watch Polish hero Justyna Kowalczyk, who was knocked out in the quarterfinals.
A classic distance race is scheduled for Saturday.
QUOTES Kikkan Randall In the final I got off to a good start and was hoping to tuck in behind the Norwegians. After about 200 meters I somehow crossed skis with Matveeva and we both went down. For a split second I couldn't believe this was happening again! But then I jumped back up determined to try to catch back up. Luckily all of my equipment was intact. I had to work pretty hard but I was able to catch the pack right as we headed up the climb. I managed to glide up towards the front off the final turn and came into the homestretch with a chance to win. But when I went to switch into my finishing gear, I didn't have my full power left and I couldn't fight off Ingemarsdotter and Falla, who were closing hard. That early surge to catch back up drained my finish power.
While I wanted to win today, and felt I was in the shape to do so, I am satisfied with my result knowing I gave everything I had. It was unfortunate to have the crash, but I was glad that I was able to ski my way back into contention.
The fans were out in force today and were cheering loudly for all the racers. It was a great atmosphere.
Our wax team did an amazing job today and my skis were great, which was key in helping me reach the podium.
Today was a very important race in the overall. I was happy to gain some points on my closest competitors now that the skate sprints will be done and it will be three classic sprints now. It's a real thrill to be leading the sprint cup and I want to defend the red bib all the way to Stockholm.
Matt Whitcomb, Women's Head Cross Country Coach We fared well in what was a very tight qualification, placing two men and two women in the heats. While Andy, Simi, and Jessie lost tight battles in the quarter finals, Kikkan returned to form and demonstrated what was looking to be unbeatable.
She controlled both quarter and semifinal heats, but in the finals got tangled in the opening straights with Matveeva. She was able to cover a huge deficit and caught the pack by the top of the course. In the final 100 meters when Ingemarsdotter and Falla were surging, she just didn't have the power she needed. It had been burned recovering from the crash.
Her podium today was an amazing performance. While she wanted this win badly, she was all smiles - vintage Kikkan. Having her back to form is a victory and we're fired up to have placed four in the points. Our service staff did a great job in challenging conditions.