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Kikkan Randall, cancer free and moved by running legend, tackles New York City Marathon

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Olympic cross-country skiing champion Kikkan Randall will run the New York City Marathon on Sunday to celebrate last year’s successful breast cancer treatment, but she mentally signed up for the 26.2-mile race several years before her diagnosis.

Randall felt the marathon itch while in Norway for competition, long before winning the U.S.’ first cross-country skiing gold medal with Jessie Diggins in the team sprint at her fifth and final Olympics in PyeongChang.

The Norwegian organization Aktiv Against Cancer invited Randall to an event. She learned that Aktiv was co-founded in 2007 by Norwegian Grete Waitz, the record nine-time NYC Marathon champion who was diagnosed with cancer in 2005 and died in 2011 at age 57. She learned that its mission was to make physical activity a regular part of cancer treatment.

“It immediately made a lot of sense to me,” Randall said. Randall, along with ski teammates, committed to Aktiv events every time they were in Oslo for a race. They worked out with cancer patients who were doing exercises in hospitals.

“A few of my teammates who were contemplating retirement, we all kind of said, when we retire from ski racing, let’s go run the marathon, raise some money for Aktiv,” Randall said.

That was the plan two winters ago. Randall would wrap up her skiing career at the February 2018 Winter Games, then run the November 2018 New York City Marathon for Aktiv. She would also receive an inspiration award from Aktiv at a pre-race luncheon.

But two months after the Olympics, Randall was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.

“I had to call [Aktiv] back and say that our connection had just deepened,” Randall said, “that I wasn’t sure now that I would get to run the marathon.”

As Randall underwent six rounds of chemotherapy in the summer and fall of 2018, she stayed physically active. She toyed with the idea of keeping her Nov. 8 marathon entry, in between her last round on Oct. 22 and November surgery.

“But as the chemo sessions went on, I started to realize that probably wasn’t the smartest idea,” she said. “The progressive rounds of chemo had been kind of breaking me down and compromising my immune system.”

Randall still traveled to New York last November for race weekend. She accepted the Aktiv inspiration award. Then she watched in Central Park as Olympic teammate Liz Stephen completed the five-borough race in 2 hours, 58 minutes, 40 seconds.

“I decided to come back next year,” Randall said. “It’s just been a great goal to have this year as I built my way back from finishing treatment.”

Surgery showed chemo had dissolved the tumors. Randall finished precautionary radiation in late January. “That still felt like the most intense part because I had to go in every single day,” she said.

She had infusions every three weeks through early July, but they were manageable with no side effects. She’s on hormone suppression medication for the next five years, also precautionary to prevent recurrence.

“Since November, pretty confident I’m cancer-free,” she said.

Unlike most first-time marathoners, Randall has actually competed in a longer distance. She skied her first 50km (31 miles) event in Wisconsin in February, taking 2 hours, 48 minutes.

Randall trained through public speaking engagements all summer, including a Sunday long run on a Princess Cruises deck track — 87 laps to reach 12 miles. She tuned up for New York City by winning the female division of a half marathon in Kelowna, B.C., two weeks ago in 1:23:43, an hour north of her home. Her plan was to run closer to 1:30.

“I’ve had a good amount of distance from finishing the hardest part of my treatments,” she said, “so I’ve been feeling pretty normal energy-wise.”

Randall’s goal on Sunday is to break three hours. She plans to start the race with Stephen and another Olympic cross-country skier, Ida Sargent. Her husband, Jeff Ellis, and father and brother will be there. Her son, 3-year-old Breck, will stay home with his grandparents.

Randall, long recognizable in skiing for her pink hair (not related to breast cancer), will wear her personal brand of bright-colored socks with the words “It’s going to be … OK!” The motto helped her get through cancer treatment. She has sold 5,000 pairs on Kikkan.com, with $2 for each sale going to Aktiv.

Her blond hair grew back long enough that she can color it again before Sunday. She may also throw on glitter in a nod to a U.S. cross-country skiing team tradition started by Diggins, who brought levity to competition.

“It’s my way to celebrate what I can do, being grateful that my treatment has gone so well,” Randall said of running, “and in tribute to those who fought hard and did everything they could but ultimately didn’t get the positive outcome like I’ve had.”

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It has been 7 years since Simone Biles last lost an all-around

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Simone Biles had braces but no driver’s license and “Harlem Shake” topped the Billboard Hot 100 the last time she was beaten in all-around competition, seven years ago this week.

Biles, then having just turned 16, took second to 2012 Olympian Kyla Ross at a tri-meet among the U.S., Germany and Romania in Chemnitz, Germany, on March 30, 2013.

It was just the third senior meet of Biles’ career in her first year as a senior gymnast. Since that runner-up, Biles has won 21 straight all-arounds through the October 2019 World Championships, rarely even challenged (though she has been defeated in unofficial national team camp competition).

Chemnitz marked one of the least consequential meets of Biles’ sterling career. She devoted one sentence to it in her autobiography, “Courage to Soar,” and noted she was distracted from the stress of competition on the overseas trip by daydreaming about a birthday present.

“Secretly, I hoped that when I got back home, a shiny new turquoise-blue Ford Focus would be waiting for me in our driveway,” she wrote.

Ross, speaking by phone last week, faintly recalled when asked the last time Biles was defeated.

“I think it was … were we in Germany?” she said. “Oh gosh, I don’t even know if I can remember it that well.”

Ross did remember training before the meet at a German national team gym.

“When we got to the arena we were all kind of shocked,” she said. “In elite, we’re all used to competing on podium or in these big arenas. It was more of just almost like a college meet. Like it was a basketball floor. Nothing was on podium.

“I don’t even remember how the scores were shown or anything. Those meets in the spring in elite we’re just trying to get our routines figured out and get more consistent.”

Ross was the all-around star of the U.S. program at the time, given fellow 2012 Olympians Gabby DouglasJordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman were taking breaks. She won both Chemnitz and the U.S. Classic (where Biles was pulled mid-competition by coach Aimee Boorman after early struggles).

Later that summer, Biles edged Ross by two tenths of a point combining scores from two days at nationals, and they again went one-two at the world championships.

“I felt like it was kind of the two of us,” Ross said. “This was her time to upgrade and make a name for herself. I definitely feel like I helped her and guided her a little bit. I feel like Martha [Karolyi] wanted me to teach her the ropes a little bit just because she always so fun and outgoing but definitely needed to try to learn and focus and understand what it was like to compete internationally and compete for Team USA.”

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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Boglarka Kapas, world champion swimmer, tests positive for coronavirus

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Boglarka Kapas, the Hungarian swimmer and world 200m butterfly champion, said she tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I don’t have any symptoms yet, and that’s why it’s important for you to know that even if you feel healthy you can spread the virus,” was posted on her social media. “Please be careful, stay at home and stay healthy.”

Kapas said her first test was negative but a second test showed she had the virus. She was staying in quarantine at home for two weeks.

Kapas, 26, won the 200m fly at last summer’s world championships by passing Americans Hali Flickinger and Katie Drabot in the last 25 meters. She clocked 2:06.78 to prevail by .17 of a second.

Kapas also took bronze in the Rio Olympic 800m freestyle won by Katie Ledecky.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.