JACKI LYDEN, host:
No American has won an Olympic medal in cross country skiing since 1976, but Anchorage skier Kikkan Randall could change that in Vancouver this February. The 26-year-old is now leading a revival for U.S. prospects in the sport. Alaska Public Radio Network's Annie Feidt reports.
ANNIE FEIDT: It's a story you've heard before: a pint-size athlete declares that they will one day make it to the Olympics. Kikkan Randall's early plotting was always focused on one goal: to win a medal in 2010. Her mom, Deborah Randall, remembers when that seemed improbable. Kikkan started out skiing with a club in Anchorage.
Ms. DEBORAH RANDALL: You know, I used to laugh at her at Junior Nordic because she was not a very good skier, but she would clamor to the front with, you know, poles flying, skis flying every which way, but she had to be in the front.
FEIDT: On a recent morning near Anchorage, those poles and skis hit the snow with elegant precision. Randall's testing out her legs on the first snowfall of the season. Mount McKinley glows pink in the distance. Dozens of moose are munching on alders nearby. It's a beautiful Alaska scene, but Kikkan Randall has other things on her my mind.
Ms. KIKKAN RANDALL (Cross Country Skier): Every stride I make I'm thinking about making the most efficient and powerful movement I can.
FEIDT: In February of this year, Randall won a silver medal at the Cross Country World Championships, a first for U.S. women. Her event was skate sprint, a race that looks a bit like speed skating on snow. But at the Olympics in February, there's no skate sprint in the lineup. Randall will have to use the classic skiing technique with skis parallel. In swimming, it would be kind of like asking a champion breaststroker to switch to butterfly, but Randall isn't intimidated.
Ms. K. RANDALL: Oh, of course, there's a little bit kind of where you go, oh darn, you know, it would've been nice to go and especially after the silver medal at World Championships last year, to go and really fire in for a skate sprint. But a classic sprint, that's a big challenge and the Olympics are all about seeing what you can do.
FEIDT: U.S. cross country skiers haven't been taken seriously at international competitions for decades. Randall's never let that attitude affect her. But even her mom Deborah admits she's had doubts.
Ms. D. RANDALL: You know, I guess I was skeptical. It's, like, Kikkan, you know, this is, you know, we're talking Norwegians, we're talking Russians here. How are you ever going to compete against that? She has never wavered in her belief that she can do it.
FEIDT: Kikkan Randall isn't the only U.S. cross country skier who has a shot at a medal in Vancouver. The U.S. team has strong contenders in at least two other events. And now Randall hopes the team can woo a few more fans to a sport that has often been dismissed by people in the U.S.
Ms. K. RANDALL: Cross country skiers always get a rap for being kind of boring - just spring off in the woods for an hour and coming back. So, I thought I'd spice things up a little bit. Just have a little fun.
FEIDT: That spice she's referring to is hair dye - stripes of hot pink running through her wavy blonde hair. So, she'll be hard to miss in Vancouver, especially if she ends up on the Olympic podium.
For NPR News, I'm Annie Feidt in Anchorage.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.