Kikkan Randall was already a rock star as she stood at the start line for the women’s team sprint at the 2018 Winter Olympics. She was the most decorated cross-country skier in U.S. history, a three-time medalist at the World Championships, a 34-time medal-winner on the World Cup, a barrier-breaker in a sport where Americans had long languished.
The only thing Randall didn’t have was an Olympic medal, and this was her last chance. She was 35 years old and the mother of a 2-year-old. Retirement loomed.
It was 7 p.m. in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and 1 a.m. in Alaska. Sixteen minutes later, Randall and teammate Jessie Diggins of Minnesota were Olympic champions, the winners of a tense battle with Scandinavian powerhouses Sweden and Norway that ended with America claiming its first gold medal in the sport.
After 17 seasons, five Olympics and a multitude of successes, Randall was an overnight sensation.
Randall and Diggins were all over the news for the rest of the day, and for days to come. They had scripted one of Pyeongchang’s signature moments — a stirring sprint finish, a historic outcome and a pair of conquerers who wore glitter on their faces, pink in their hair and chestbumped each other on the awards podium.
A few weeks later in Anchorage, Randall’s hometown feted her with “Kikkan Week,” which included, among other things, a Town Square celebration, the presentation of a Kikkan Randall action figure, and the creation of “Gold & Glory” ice cream. In a place where cross-country skiing is part of the culture, Randall’s gold-medal moment resonated long after her victory.
— Beth Bragg