Kikkan Randall: Change Of Fortune
Kikkan Randall's love for cross-country skiing began in an unlikely way, strapped to a pair of Alpine skis before she was hardly old enough to walk.
The day after her first birthday, Randall's dad, Ronn, came home with the smallest boots he could find, along with a pair of 31-inch Alpine skis for his daughter.
"He would build a little hill in the front yard to practice or he'd tie a rope around my waist and let me go," she remembered.
Even the name "Kikkan" was partially inspired by Kiki Cutter, the first American to win a World Cup event in slalom racing.
"I think my dad was secretly hoping I'd be an Alpine skier," joked Randall, the most decorated female cross-country skier in U.S. history and the gold medal favorite for the individual freestyle sprint event in Sochi.
As she developed her snow legs, Randall was undoubtedly influenced by her mom's side of the family, too. She is the niece of two cross-country skiing Olympians, Betsy Haines (1980) and Chris Haines (1976).
Still, it wasn't until partway through high school that Randall considered snow sports to be anything more than offseason training. Having snagged 10 state titles in track and cross country at East Anchorage High School, she had long set her sights on running at the NCAA level.
"I was Alpine and cross-country skiing in the winters just to stay in shape, but I really wanted to run in college," she said. "Then after sophomore year of high school, I got introduced to a new cross-country ski program and I ended up loving it and switching my focus completely."
It didn't take long for her to fall for the more diverse training, which included strength sessions, biking and roller skiing in the summers.
"I was also intrigued that no American woman had ever won a medal at the Olympics in cross-country skiing," she said. "I decided I wanted to do something about that."
With the backing of year-round training, she entered her first high school race and her future in the sport was solidified.
"My best friend went to a rival high school and was always a stronger skier," she said. "But after switching to skiing full time, I beat her in the first race of the year by six seconds and that got me really excited about my potential."
Entering her fourth Olympic Games, Randall insists that she still gets the same thrill from winning on the world stage as she did at that race in Anchorage.
"At the time, each level I have reached has been the biggest moment of my career," she said. "From winning that first high school race to national and World Cup races, they have all been such big benchmarks."
Aside from the hardware she's earned, she says her love for the sport is entrenched in the hard work and supreme fitness it requires.
"I think loving it really matters at every level," she said. "I had a vision of the skier I wanted to be all those years ago and I've worked my way to being that skier. I had these goals deep down that almost took my breath away back then and now I'm close to achieving those in reality."