ANCHORAGE, Alaska — From Kikkan Randall’s historic World Cup title to Amy Glen’s photo-finish NCAA championship to Jay Hakkinen’s age-defying biathlon results to Tyler Kornfield’s delayed glory, Alaskans set the world of snow sports on fire this winter.
They made history on the international racing scene, they won national championships, they earned spots on world championship teams and, in the case of Randall, they ruled the planet.
Randall, 29, earned the World Cup sprint title and placed fifth in the overall standings, becoming the first American to claim a World Cup title since Bill Koch in 1982 and establishing the best overall finish in history by an American woman.
Randall finished third in the sprint standings last season, winning a bronze medal for the effort while the coveted crystal globe for first place went to Slovenia’s Petra Majdic. That end-of-season awards ceremony provided ample motivation for this season, Randall said.
“I watched the globe walk by me and get handed to (Majdic) and I remember thinking, man, I want to be in that position next year,” she said.
Randall’s success has been epidemic, sparking historic results for the entire U.S. team — and inspiring younger American skiers, especially girls and women. Tom Kelly of the U.S. Skiing and Snowboarding Association said she’s having the same Pied Piper effect that Koch did more than 30 years ago.
“He attracted throngs of new participants,” Kelly said. “Kikkan is doing the same thing — and embracing it. — She truly engages in helping to motivate young boys and girls.”
Young skiers in Alaska have it particularly good. They get the occasional chance to train with Randall during the offseason, especially those who belong to the Alaska Pacific University nordic program.
Randall is the biggest star of the APU program but not the only star. Holly Brooks and Sadie Bjornsen also made history this year on the World Cup tour — Bjornsen teamed with Randall to win a silver medal in a team sprint race and Brooks was a member of a relay team that posted the best finish by an U.S. women’s team.
Brooks had a storybook season. She earned a chance to ski in the early World Cup races based on her domestic results from the previous season, and she parlayed that chance into a full season on the World Cup circuit.
She earned an invitation to the arduous Tour de Ski and unknowingly competed in all nine races with a broken wrist. When she finished rehabbing she returned to action only to get sick, so she made a quick two-week trip home to Anchorage, hoping familiar surroundings would hasten her recovery. It did that and more — while back in the United States she decided to fly to Wisconsin for the 50-kilometer American Birkebeiner. She won the race and a $7,500 in prize money.
Randall’s World Cup winnings for the season are somewhere in the $80,000 range, Kelly said. The money comes in the form of Swiss francs, and Randall joked that it’s her husband’s job to figure out the exchange rate.
The crystal globe, meanwhile, is priceless — the culmination of a decade’s work for Randall, who was 19 when she made her Olympic debut in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Also priceless is the experience reaped by Alaska skiers, especially girls and women, who get to train with Randall, Brooks and Bjornsen during the offseason.
Celia Haering is West High skier who is also part of APU’s training program, which gives her plenty of chances to test herself against some of the world’s best.
“I’m 17 and still in high school and I get to train with Kikkan Randall,” Haering said at this year’s state high school championships. “In the summer I ski myself into the ground chasing Holly and Kikkan.
“You see the girls go out there and working hard every day and you think, that can be me too.”