Kikkan Randall leads cross-country skiing season storylines

Kikkan Randall
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In 2002, Kikkan Randall, 19, debuted at the Salt Lake City Olympics and finished 60th.

Later at the Games, she watched Sarah Hughes, 16, place 59 spots higher in figure skating. Randall felt sorry for Hughes. Here’s why:

“[Hughes] had reached the pinnacle of her sport so early and knowing that I would have 10 years or more to look forward to doing that,” Randall recalled one year ago, according to USA Today.

She just about proved prophetic.

“My goal is to medal in 2010,” Randall told the newspaper in 2002. “In this sport, you cannot have quick success. You’ve got to put in the time, and you usually peak when you are close to 30.”

Randall, an Alaskan who won a high school bodybuilding contest, did not win a medal at her third Olympics in 2010. She and Caitlin Compton took sixth in the team sprint.

It marked the best finish by U.S. women’s cross-country skiers in Olympic history, but Bill Koch remained the only American to win an Olympic medal in the sport (1976 silver).

Randall will turn 31 on New Year’s Eve. She seems to be peaking, and she is predicted to win a medal in Sochi following consistent World Cup and breakthrough World Championships success.

“I remember being at my first Olympics at Salt Lake … and dreaming about the skier I wanted to become to eventually compete for the first-ever Olympic medal in women’s cross-country skiing,” she said in October. “It really feels like the blink of an eye.”

Randall spent the last decade ascending in sprint skiing. She’s the two-time reigning World Cup leader in the discipline, clinching last season’s title by edging Norwegian all-around superstar Marit Bjoergen by .07 of a second in her 100th career World Cup start.

She teamed with Jessie Diggins to make history at the World Championships in February, winning the team sprint and the first world title by American cross-country skiers, men or women.

Randall also won a 2009 World Championships silver medal, individually, but the recent surge in U.S. depth means she (and all of U.S. cross-country skiing) have more chances at breaking the Olympic medal drought.

“We’re in contention [in relays] for the first time in my Games experience,” Randall told the International Ski Federation (FIS).

This season’s World Cup results will be an early indicator of potential Sochi success. Watch for Randall’s individual performances against Olympic champions Bjoergen and Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk and Norwegian Maiken Caspersen Falla.

Sweden, Finland and Norway are the top competition in the team sprint.

Here’s this season’s cross-country skiing World Cup/Olympic schedule:

Kuusamo, Finland — Nov. 29-Dec. 1
Lillehammer, Norway — Dec. 7-8
Davos, Switzerland — Dec. 14-15
Asiago, Italy — Dec. 21-22
Oberhof, Germany — Dec. 28-29 (Tour de Ski)
Lenzerheide, Switzerland — Dec. 31-Jan. 1 (Tour de Ski)
Cortina-Toblach, Italy — Jan. 3 (Tour de Ski)
Val di Fiemme, Italy — Jan. 4-5 (Tour de Ski)
Nove Mesto, Czech Republic — Jan. 11-12
Szklarska Poreba, Poland — Jan. 18-19
Toblach, Italy — Feb. 1-2
Olympics — Feb. 8-23
Lahti, Finland — March 1-2
Drammen, Norway — March 6
Oslo, Norway — March 8-9
Falun, Sweden — March 14-16 (World Cup Final)

2. Who will make the U.S. Olympic Team?

The U.S. will base its Olympic Team selections off World Cup results and FIS Points standings through the Nove Mesto World Cup stop.

Currently, it is one of eight nations to qualify the maximum quota of 20 Olympians, a sign of progress after the U.S. sent 11 cross-country skiers to the 2010 Olympics.

The quota standings will change over the next two months, and the U.S. won’t necessarily fill every quota spot it receives.

A nation may have no more than 12 Olympians for one gender and four skiers per Olympic event.

The top U.S. women’s cross-country skiers last season were Randall (third in the overall World Cup), Liz Stephen (20th overall), Holly Brooks (35th), Diggins (36th) and Ida Sargent (39th).

The top men last season were Andy Newell (29th overall, fifth sprint), Noah Hoffman (48th overall), Kris Freeman (75th) and Simi Hamilton (91st).

All but Diggins, Sargent and Hoffman were on the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team.

3. Norway’s domination

No nation owns more Olympic cross-country skiing medals than Norway, which has 96 and will likely win its 100th Olympic cross-country medal come February.

The world’s best male and female skiers are both Norwegian — Bjoergen and Petter Northug.

Bjoergen, 33, won three gold medals at the 2010 Olympics. She finished fourth in the 2012-13 World Cup overall standings despite missing the entire Tour de Ski after being hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat. She came back to win four golds and one silver at the World Championships.

Bjoergen is three career Olympic medals behind the most decorated female Winter Olympian of all time, retired Soviet cross-country skier Raisa Smetanina, who won 10.

Northug, 27, is the reigning Olympic and world champion in the grueling 50km and the reigning World Cup overall champion. One of his biggest rivals, Swiss Dario Cologna, could miss the rest of 2013 recovering from ankle surgery.

Still, there is concern about Northug. His best finish in three events in a pre-World Cup stop in Norway last week was 10th, and he took 63rd in one race.

Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess a unique U.S. Olympic hopeful

Aksel Lund Svindal, Olympic Alpine champ, has testicular cancer, ‘prognosis good’

Aksel Lund Svindal
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Aksel Lund Svindal, a retired Olympic Alpine skiing champion from Norway, said he underwent surgery for testicular cancer and the prognosis “looked very good.”

“Tests, scans and surgery all happened very quickly,” Svindal, 39, wrote on social media. “And already after the first week I knew the prognoses looked very good. All thanks to that first decision to go see a doctor as soon as I suspected something was off.”

Svindal retired in 2019 after winning the Olympic super-G in 2010 and downhill in 2018. He also won five world titles among the downhill, combined and giant slalom and two World Cup overall titles.

Svindal said he felt a change in his body that prompted him to see a doctor.

“The last few weeks have been different,” he wrote. “But I’m able to say weeks and not months because of great medical help, a little luck and a good decision.

“I wasn’t sure what it was, or if it was anything at all. … [I] was quickly transferred to the hospital where they confirmed what the doctor suspected. Testicle cancer.”

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France vs. Mali Group B
4 a.m. Australia vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada vs. Japan Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
11:30 p.m. Mali vs. Serbia Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA vs. South Korea Group A
2 a.m. France vs. Japan Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final