Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chasing Kikkan

I keep thinking about how strange it is to be a fan of North American cross-country skiing right now. I started following the World Cup seriously in 2005, just before the Oberstdorf world championships, at a time when Kris Freeman was the only serious North American contender for a top-20 result.

The situation now is an epic contrast. On the men's side, we have Harvey and Kershaw, two men who can vie for a win in any given event. Behind them are a handful of skiers - a few at or maybe past the peaks of their careers, a few more on the ascent - who can and do pull off good races - Babikov, Valjas, Freeman, Newell, even now Hamilton and Hoffman.

The women's side is even better. Jones and Crawford ski well for Canada, but are overshadowed by a ridiculously strong American team: Diggins, Stephen, Sargent, Brooks - and of course Randall. By now I shouldn't be surprised by anything that Kikkan Randall does on skis, and yet I am. Today she won the Tour de Ski prologue in Oberhof with a very strong race, making it all the more difficult to resist picking her to finish in the top five in any race of the Tour.

A casual observer can tell that Randall has the physical skills to do very well in the Tour, but I'm impressed by her mental preparedness. As she told Fasterskier: “While it’s nice to have a good result today it’s really about having that consistency over seven events. I’m confident in my ability to do that but you can’t take too much away from today. You’ve just got to focus on tomorrow right away."

I think she's going to do well on Sunday and throughout the rest of the Tour: