Kicking around name ideas
Kikkan Randall's catchy first name is the result of a compromise between her parents. Her father wanted to name his first-born after 1968 U.S. Olympian in Alpine and the first American to ever win a World Cup event, Christina "Kiki" Cutter, whereas her mother preferred the more standard Megan. In the end, they agreed to combine the two names together, resulting in Kikkan. Her parents cultivated her interest in sports, but it was her aunt, 1980 U.S. Olympian Betsy Haynes, who got her focused on cross-country skiing at an early age.
In middle school, Randall became interested in running and emboldened by a quote by legendary runner Steve Prefontaine: "Anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." By high school, she had earned the nickname, "Kikkanimal," from her cross-country running teammates. Randall explains, "I was always pushing them to do one more interval or one more set of push-ups. And they said, ‘You're an animal, and you're of no type we've ever seen, so we're going to call you a Kikkanimal.'" When she was 14, her stature grew when she set the Alaskan state speed skiing record, at 74 mph, skiing down a local hill.
One summer, Randall's mother told her to find a job. Being an avid runner, her first choice was a running store in Anchorage called Skinny Raven. After she applied, she didn't hear back for two weeks, so she also applied at a nearby McDonald's, which turned her down because she would need to take time off to train and compete. She finally got a call back from Skinny Raven and hired her. Randall ended up working there for eight years. To this day, there's a five-foot photo of her from her Olympic debut hanging in the shop.
First Olympic forays
Randall competed in her first Olympic Games at the 2002 Salt Lake Games when she was 19, an experience that she likened to "being a kid in a candy store." Personal expectations were higher for her second Olympics, in 2006. What began as a huge downer - a five-day suspension for excessive hemoglobin levels, something she attributed to the stress of travel and acclimation to the higher altitude at the Olympic venue - ended with solid results in both sprint events. Following a 10th place result in the team sprint final, she notched the best-ever finish for a U.S. female in an individual cross-country skiing event, when she took ninth in the individual sprint.
Dash - clot - dash
In December 2007, Randall followed Cutter's example by becoming the first U.S. female cross-country skier to win a World Cup event when she captured the individual sprint in Rybinsk, Russia. At the end of that season, however, she suffered a massive blood clot in her leg that could potentially have been life-threatening. After initial treatment in Anchorage, she lay low, but the clot re-appeared and required more treatment. After six weeks off skis, she competed in the first World Cup sprint of the 2008-09 season in Kuusamo, Finland. Early results were mediocre, she and her coaches laid the groundwork for a competitive peak in February 2009 at the World Championships. Despite an unexpected case of shingles upon arrival in Liberec, she excelled on the day of the individual sprint, finishing second (by only 0.6 seconds) to become the first-ever U.S. female medalist at a major championship.
Outside of her U.S. coaches and teammates, Randall can thank two Canadian training partners for her success on the trails in recent years. At the U.S. Distance Championships in 2006, she met Canadian skier Jeff Ellis, who like herself, had a strong interest in endurance sports. The relationship grew and in May 2008, the couple got married with Mount Denali, the tallest peak in North America, as a picturesque backdrop. That summer, Randall began an extended off-season training program with Canadian friend, 2006 Olympic sprint champion, Chandra Crawford. The two also donned pink and shared their experiences and training methods with aspiring female athletes on behalf of Crawford's organization, Fast and Female.
The wild environment of Alaska has provided the outdoorsy Randall with "the ultimate playground" for a skier. Wintry conditions often extend from October into May, but a ten-minute helicopter ride can get her to a glacial training center with a 10km loop owned by Alaska Pacific University to fill out the calendar. What could be a chilly scenario for continental U.S. residents is a dream for Randall. "I think the spirit of Alaska is all about conquering whatever comes along." Anchorage, in particular, and Alaska, in general, have also provided Randall with a strong financial and moral support network throughout her career, as witnessed by the "Alaska is wild about Kikkan" banners that sent her off prior to the 2002 and 2006 Games. Watch Randall talk about her home state.
Reading coffee grounds
Freestyle skier Shannon Bahrke can attest to Randall's popularity among coffee drinkers, as her Silver Bean Kikkan Randall blend is one of Bahrke's best sellers. "We've got some pretty big name athletes. Lindsey Vonn, she's world champion. We have Julia Mancuso and Steve Nyman. I thought those guys were just going to be flying off the shelf. It's all the Nordic skiers: Billy Demong, Johnny Spillane and Kikkan Randall. She's sold a lot!" As for Randall herself, she prefers a white cappuccino when she goes to Starbucks.
As the pilot for the USA-1 bobsled, I broke a 62-year gold medal drought when my sled, the 'Night Train" won the Olympic title at the 2010 Vancouver Games. A degenerative eye condition nearly caused me to quit my sport in 2008, but corrective surgery restored my vision to 20-20.