Cross-Country Skiing

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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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Holund completes Norway sweep in men’s cross-country events at world champs

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Norway’s Hans Christer Holund made his play for the world championship gold medal before the lead group of roughly 40 skiers had passed the halfway mark in the sen’s 50km mass start.

Holund built a lead of more than a minute over the course of 15km in the final half of the grueling distance race.  

With two laps remaining, and the chase pack entering to change skis, a Russian quartet, including 2018 PyeongChang Olympic silver medalist in the 50km mass start, Alexander Bolshunov opted to stay on course to attempt to chase down Holund. Each of Holund’s fellow Norwegians stopped to change skis before their final push to the finish.

Prior to the day of the race, Bolshunov wasn’t listed on the startlist to compete in the final event of cross-country skiing at these world championships, but here was the World Cup points leader in distance, and second overall in points, contending for the podium.

Over the final 12km, Bolshunov continually chipped away at Holund’s lead at each time check. Bolshunov had shrunk Holund’s lead to just 23 seconds as he crossed the final time check before the finish. But Holund’s lead was too much for the Russian to overcome.  Holund crossed the finish line to win with a time of 1 hour 49 minutes and 59.3 seconds.

Holund’s win, his first at a major championship, solidified the Norwegian sweep in the men’s cross-country skiing events at the 2019 Nordic World Ski Championships. It’s the first time a single country has accomplished such a feat in the men’s races at a world championship.

In a drag race for the bronze, Norway’s Sjur Roethe outstretched his countrymen Martin Johnsrud Sundby to land on the podium for the third time at these world championships, having won gold in the Skiathlon and gold in the relay with his Norwegian teammates.

 

Norway’s Therese Johaug wins third world title in Seefeld

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Norway’s Therese Johaug has returned to making the kind of headlines she hoped to make when she first started her career in cross-country ski racing, winning her third individual world title of the 2019 Nordic World Ski Championships.

Johaug made her return to racing this season after serving an 18-month suspension after she tested positive for a banned substance in 2016. The blemish of the suspension will always loom over Johaug’s career, but the Norwegian is clearly focused on the future, and making up for lost time.

“My goal and my dream was to take one gold medal and now I have three and one silver,” Johaug said after the race. “I cannot believe what these championships have been.”

She returned to the top of the women’s 30km mass start world championship podium for the third time in her career, crossing the finish line with a time of 1 hour 14 minutes 26.2 seconds. Johaug also owns world titles in the mass start from 2011 and 2015.

Johaug led from the start and never looked back, crossing the finish line more than 30 seconds ahead of her best friend, and silver medalist, Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg.

“I felt really good today,” Johaug said. “I wanted to go fast from the beginning…then I just go as fast as I could all the way.”

Sweden’s 19-year-old Frida Karlsson rounded out the world championship podium taking the bronze.

The U.S.’ Jessie Diggins posted her best individual finish at these world championships, finishing just over a minute behind Karlsson, in fourth.

Full results are here.

Tomorrow the men have their shot at a mass start world title. Racing begins at 7:00 a.m. ET. Watch live on TV or streaming on Olympic Channel or with an NBC Sports Gold Snow Pass.