PARK CITY — For months, World Cup cross-country skiing sprint champ Kikkan Randall toted around her crystal globe, hoisting it high everywhere from atop a snow grooming machine during a hometown parade in Anchorage to a celebration in Times Square, setting off security scanners at airports everywhere in between.
Lately, the three-time Olympian’s most noticeable accessory had been the protective walking boot she had to wear while battling back from a stress fracture in her right foot.
The injury has changed her workout routine in Park City and some of her aspirations for this season, but it won’t change her ultimate goal, to win gold at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 — and perhaps beyond.
“It’s thrown a little wrench in the loop,” said Randall, whose first World Cup event is about a month away. “I don’t expect to be on fire in those first few races of the season. Those are going to be more like racing myself back into shape.”
While she had hoped to go for the crystal globe again after becoming the first U.S. woman to win a World Cup season championship when she clinched the sprint title in February, it just depends on her conditioning.
“Right now I’m focused on performing at the world championships, and the rest of the races I will work to be in the best shape I can, knowing it will take me the first part of the season to get back.”
Randall started feeling subtle pain in her right foot about a year ago, and several times during the racing season. “But I never really had a chance to slow down or do anything about it,” said Randall, who competed in 36 of 39 races last season. “And it was so subtle, I just kept dismissing it as a pain that would go away.”
In mid-August, one of her coaches convinced her to get it checked while she had the time.
Doctors in Colorado discovered the stress fracture in her second metatarsal bone.
“It’s very different and frustrating, but at the same time I have been pretty fortunate in my career,” said Randall, a favorite to win the sprint title in Sochi after finishing ninth in Turin in 2006 and eighth in Vancouver. “I just have to be patient. And if I deal with it now and don’t rush back too quick, then I should be able to move forward from this and still have a great season and be totally ready for the Olympics next year.”
For the past two months, she’s worn the gray protective boot, customized, of course, with hot pink tape that matches her patented pink-streaked hair, pink-framed sunglasses and exercise gear.
The injury kept the workout fiend from doing any skiing or running, and limited her to work in the pool or on the bike, or upper-body machines.
Only recently has she started running on an anti-gravity treadmill.
She’s headed back to Anchorage next week when she hopes to begin skiing again.
“Once it feels good going easy, then I can go up to race speeds again,” she said.
That may not come until the season starts.
“I’ve been really hard-charging over the last few years to meet these goals,” she acknowledged. “With the Olympics coming up maybe it’s not a bad thing to have a rest period to let the body absorb (everything).”
Don’t think for a minute that the injury has made Randall less intense.
While many friends her age are bemoaning turning 30, Randall welcomes the milestone she’ll hit New Year’s Eve.
“It’s very exciting because when I was very young in the sport, people were saying it’s going to take you 10 years to develop, so be ready. ... Now to know I’m arriving (in Sochi aged 31) and my skiing is right where I want it to be is a good feeling.”
Of course, her biological clock hasn’t stopped, and she also would like to start a family soon.
“I had my sights set on my career going through 2014 and peaking at the Olympics and winning a gold medal and having done everything I’ve done in skiing,” Randall said. “But right now I’m having so much fun at what I do and knowing that I’m still improving and our team is getting so strong, 2014 doesn’t necessarily feel like the end to me anymore.”
So would she consider South Korea in 2018? “I’m not saying it’s outside the realm of possibility,” Randall said.
As she thought back on the past year — from her strong start, to a stomach ailment, and a fall she overcame in Poland to earn a podium, and then capturing the overall sprint title — it made her all the more thrilled to be able to show off that crystal globe to children and inspire the next generation.
“It’s something I want to share with everybody,” said Randall, who is very active in Fast and Female, a program that empowers girls through sports and a healthy lifestyle. “It’s really important to encourage people about what’s possible in cross-country skiing in this country. Someday, it can go sit on the shelf and collect dust.”
As for the walking boot, now that it’s off, it’s been relegated to the back of her truck. As far as she is concerned, it can collect dust forever.