Timur Nisametdinov, NIPA, File, Associated Press
NEW YORK — Kikkan Randall could become the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing.
Make the podium at the 2014 Sochi Games, and she can inspire young athletes and lure sponsors to a sport often an afterthought in the United States.
No pressure, right? Randall embraces it.
"That's for sure one of my main motivations for wanting to win a medal is just the recognition it would bring to the sport, to our team that's been working so hard — kind of in the background, in the shadow of the Alpine team a little bit, toiling away," she said Wednesday. "I think it would do tremendous things.
"We're still living the glory of the medal Bill Koch won in 1976; we still talk about it. We know it's possible."
Koch's silver 36 years ago remains the only Olympic cross-country medal won by an American. After Randall became the first woman from the U.S. to win a World Cup season championship — clinching the sprint title last month — she seems poised to again join Koch in the history books. He had been the last American World Cup champ in 1982.
Randall, of Anchorage, Alaska, already owns a long list of firsts. First American woman to win a gold medal in a World Cup race, in 2007. First American woman to win a world championship medal, in 2009. First American woman to finish in the top 10 at the Olympics, with her eighth-place showing in Vancouver in 2010.
But heading into previous Olympics, Randall thought, "Well, a medal is not out of the realm of possibility, but it would take a pretty incredible day of everything going right."
"This next one going in, it's like, 'No, I can legitimately be contending for a medal,'" she said as she toted her World Cup crystal globe around New York City. "So that's a very exciting feeling. I know it's also going to come with a lot more pressure and attention."
At age 29, Randall is already a three-time Olympian. Married to Canadian skier Jeff Ellis, she'd like to have children in the not-so-distant future, and she's making plans only through the Sochi Games less than two years away. But then again, she's tempted by the 2015 world championships in Sweden.
"In our sport, you work so hard to get to your peak, which you hit in your late 20s, early 30s. I could see getting to Sochi, really just hitting my stride and going, 'I worked so hard to get here; I can't stop now,'" Randall said.
"My husband's convinced I'm not going to be able to give this up very easily," she added. "There's some athletes who have had a kid and come back even stronger afterward."
For now, she's getting comfortable with the hype of being the favorite. Randall knows her success and that of her teammates could make for some welcome scrutiny in the buildup to the 2014 Games.
"Having been to three Olympics now and watching the way the media picks up on who the stars are going to be and how they're going to present it — they control so much of that," Randall said. "For sure, having the results that's we've had coming into Sochi is going to put us in a better position to get more attention and hopefully show our sport more. It's definitely motivational. We're toiling away in these years — like this year without a championship. It's like, 'No, let's go out and get some results, get some attention, because that will pay off a couple years down the road.'"
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