Kikkan says innovation finally earned her Olympic gold
After a career that spanned two decades, five Olympics and an Olympic gold medal, Kikkan Randall is having a hard time shifting into retirement.
She recently moved to Canada with her husband and 2-year-old son Brek, and was elected to represent athletes on the International Olympic Committee. There’s no doubt she’ll stay busy, but now that her former teammates are back training, Kikkan says she feels that itch to join them.
“It’s a little bit of a mixed bag and a roller coaster. I think there’s some things I’m really excited about-- getting to focus more on my family and not running out the door twice a day and Brek going, 'mom, where you going?' Now I get to focus on him and our family.”
Kikkan grew up in a skiing family. Her dad Ron was into downhill, and her mom was a cross-country skier. However, up until high school, Kikkan thought track would be her sport. By her junior year at East, Kikkan had racked up five state championships. However, that summer, her coach moved to Montana and she needed a team to train with. After a long interview with the coach, Kikkan decided she was better suited for cross-country and became one of the first members of the APU Nordic team.
“Within a couple weeks of training with them, I totally shifted from thinking about NCAA scholarships for running and track to, 'no, I want to try and make world juniors for cross-country skiing and the 2002 Olympics three years away. What if I could try and make that Olympic team?'”
Kikkan excelled at her new sport right away, but even her biggest supporter thought her daughter’s goal of Olympic gold was a little lofty.
“You want to support them and believe in them, but at that point and time, it was a little farfetched, I’d say, because as Kikkan will admit, her classic technique was not the best,” said Deb Randall.
However, that changed quickly when Kikkan started something innovative. A spreadsheet on her Macbook could be the key to her success. That’s because Kikkan wasn’t just training hard, she was keeping track of everything. Every squat, every lunge, every run is in her records. Each year, her coach would compare the hours to Kikkan’s race results and after a few years, they realized she needed to train more-- a lot more. From 300 hours a year in high school to nearly 800 the year many called her the best in the world.
“It wasn’t all perfect trajectory. There were points where I accelerate and get a good result and flatten out and times where I went backwards, but the cool thing about cross-country [is] every year builds on itself, so no matter what, you keep improving.”
It was a giant experiment that eventually paid off with a magical moment that you couldn’t write any better. Kikkan, in her eighteenth and final Olympic race, accomplished what she dreamed at 16-- becoming the first American woman to capture an Olympic cross-country medal.
But it hasn’t been easy. When Kikkan’s son was just 3-months-old, she had to get back to training on Eagle Glacier, away from family.
In South Korea, Kikkan, the only mom on the U.S. Olympic team, was forced leave to again, leaving Brek at home. it was just too far and too expensive.
Yet Kikkan says after four Olympics, giving birth may have been the transformation that finally brought her gold. Because in her fifth and final Olympics, it wasn’t about the medals.
“Oh, I’m a success if I win and a failure if I lose. It was, 'oh, no matter what happens, as long as I gave it my best I get to come home and my son is going to be happy to see me.'”
After five Olympics and a gold medal performance, Kikkan wants to make sure her son and the next generation of skiers enjoy the same kind of positive impact that the games had on her.
“The Olympic movement does have so much power to do good in the world but it’s never an easy thing. There’s so many challenges facing it with cities dropping out not to bid with the doping scandal that happened, I want to be a part of the Olympic movement to stay strong and be a positive impact on the world.”
Kikkan says she’ll use her voice on the IOC to focus on doping and gender equality issues. And while transitioning to retirement and moving out of the country hasn’t been easy, Kikkan says she’ll be back in Alaska frequently and will be keeping close tabs on her former teammates and the U.S. Olympic team.
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