Tuesday was supposed to be the capstone to one of the single greatest American Cross Country Skiing moments in Kikkan Randall’s career.
The stage was set, the Freestyle Individual Sprint was back in the Olympics for the first time in eight years, and Randall was favored to win. Instead the Nordic star was knocked out in the quarterfinals by five one-hundredths of a second.
After making it through the qualifying round Randall was placed in a brutal six-person quarterfinal that included German up-and-comer Denise Herrmann, 25, and the Queen of Nordic Skiing herself Merit Bjoergen of Norway.
Entering the stadium Kikkan was in the lead but the chase pack was close. With about 200 yards to go Hermmann and Bjoergen started making their moves, overtaking Randall on the home stretch: On this day Kikkan couldn't muster a strong enough charge down the home stretch, closing in on the finish line Gaia Vuerich of Italy edged out Randall.
The scoreboard showed Herrmann First 2:34.7 (automatic qualifier) Bjoergen Second 2:35.42 (automatic qualifier) Vuerich Third 2:35.65 (Lucky Loser Qualifier) and Kikkan Randall Fourth 2:35.70, five one-hundredths away from advancing to the next round.
A breath. An instant. A snap of your fingers. Often in sports that can be the difference, and Tuesday, for Kikkan Randall it was.
After the race Randall was clearly disappointed but handled the gauntlet of press like a true champion breaking down only once, only when asked to speak to her fans and supporters watching back home in Alaska.
“The support and attention we’ve gotten for our sport has been so cool. I’m so happy everyone was watching,” Randall said, choking back tears. “I was hoping it would go a little bit better, but I’m really lucky to have such great support.”
There is still hope that Kikkan could help bring the United States their first Cross Country medal since Bill Koch won Silver in the men's 30k in 1976. Saturday, Feb. 15 she will compete in the ladies 4x5 relay and Wednesday February 19th in the Team Sprint Classic.