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Kikkan Randall: A Trailblazer in Cross Country Skiing

By Leann Bentley
July, 25 2023
Kikkan Randall skies in the cross country 4x5m Relay at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang
Kikkan Randall skies in the 4x5m relay at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang. (U.S. Ski & Snowboard)

U.S. Ski & Snowboard is highlighting HERoic trailblazers throughout our winter sports, both past and present. A HERoic trailblazer is a woman athlete who has gone above and beyond in her sport, moving the sport forward through grit and determination and inspiring the next generation of women athletes. 

In the sport of cross country skiing, the pink-haired Kikkan Randall is a household name. She was the first American to win an Olympic gold alongside Jessie Diggins, the first American woman to win a Nordic World Championship medal and the first to win a World Champs gold, the first American woman to win a World Cup race and was the first American woman to ever win a World Cup overall discipline Crystal Globe. Wow.

Emerging as a trailblazer, a role model and an inspiring figure for all athletes for both her sport and her HERoic achievements of health and balancing a family, her relentless pursuit has left an indelible mark on cross country skiing and the Olympic movement. 


A Journey of Dedication

Randall’s journey to becoming one of the most dominant skiers started the day after she turned one year old. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, the home of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, she always knew that one day she wanted to be a skier. Growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, skiing ran in the family – Randall is the niece of two previous Olympians, Chris and Betsy Haines. Her name was partly inspired by Christina “Kiki” Cutter, the first American, man or woman, to win a FIS World Cup title in alpine skiing. She began skiing the day after her first birthday and, despite originally aspiring to be an alpine skier, she tried out cross country to stay in shape for running. As the story often goes – the rest is history. 


Career Highlights

The crowning moments of her career came in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. With one of the most electric finishing stretches of a race seen throughout Olympic history, Randall and teammate Jessie Diggins upset the favorites to win the gold medal in the team sprint. The historic medal marked the first-ever Olympic gold for the United States in cross country skiing and was a moment that catapulted the sport to the masses. 

Randall competed in five Olympics and made her Olympic debut at 19 years old in the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. In 2006, she finished ninth, making history with the best Olympic result in cross country skiing by an American woman. Throughout her career, Randall kept tallying more historic feats, inspiring generations of athletes at the same time. 

But before she was crowned Olympic champion, Randall shattered records left and right as the first American woman to do almost everything in the sport. She is a three-time World Championship medalist, including becoming the first American woman to medal at the World Champs when she took second in the sprint in Liberec, Czech Republic in 2009. She also won the first World Championships gold medal in U.S. history with Diggins in 2013 in Val di Fiemme, Italy.

She also became the first American woman to finish in the top 10 in the World Cup in 2006 (and then went on to have 29 podiums throughout her career), was the first American woman World Cup winner (she had 13 wins in total) and was the first American woman to win a World Cup discipline title with the sprint Globe in 2012 (she won three Crystal Globes in total). 


Breaking Barriers

Randall became a mother just 22 months before the 2018 Olympic Games, and was the only mom on Team USA’s 2018 roster. Within a month of giving birth, she was back in training mode and that next season, she packed up her son to spend the winter on the road racing the World Cup. That season, she won a World Championship medal, and the next, an Olympic gold. 

But two months after winning her Olympic medal, Randall was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had six rounds of chemotherapy in the summer and fall of 2018 and had surgery in the fall. But she ended up on the other side and now is partnered with the American Cancer Society to raise funds to fight the disease, and has since run marathons and skied more kilometers than most can imagine. 

In addition to the American Cancer Society, her work outside of skiing continues to speak volumes. Randall is the President of Fast and Female, a women’s empowerment agency that encourages eight to 18-year-olds to become involved in sport. She advocates and works tirelessly with Protect Our Winters to spread the word about climate change. She also worked on the International Olympic Committee Athletes Commission, and was inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame in 2011. She is a fierce advocate for creating opportunities for athletes to compete in cross country skiing, and her work has elevated the status of the sport and inspired generations of athletes. 


A Lasting Legacy

Randall stepped away from competitive skiing following the 2018 Olympics, but her legacy remains firmly embedded in the sport's history. She has left an enduring impact on cross country skiing, not only in the United States but also on the global stage, as well as for cancer survivors and mothers everywhere. 

Randall's journey is a testament to the power of perseverance, teamwork and a relentless pursuit of dreams. As her story continues to resonate with aspiring athletes and fans alike, there is no doubt that her contributions to cross country skiing will continue to inspire and shape the future of the sport for years to come, yet, the biggest takeaway is that whoever decides to try out skiing, enjoys it to the fullest and maybe wears a little bit of pink.