- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - Kikkan Randall has waited long enough. Twelve years after making her Olympic debut, her big chance at a medal has finally arrived.

The American cross-country skier is one of the gold-medal favorites in the women’s individual sprint on Tuesday, a status she never had at any of her previous three Olympics.

The 31-year-old Randall, of Anchorage, Alaska, has developed into a top sprinter over the last four years, with two World Cup discipline titles and a world championship gold on her resume. Only an Olympic medal remains, something no American woman has won in cross-country skiing.

“I’m definitely anxious about the possibilities that lay ahead tomorrow,” Randall said at Monday’s training session. “I’ve been waiting my whole career for an opportunity like this.”

She’s had to wait a while here at the Sochi Games, too. Randall didn’t compete in the women’s 15-kilometer skiathlon on Saturday, saving her energy for her best event. So there’s been plenty of time to think about her big moment.

“There are definitely butterflies but I think it’s good,” she said. “My ultimate goal is to race the best I can and leave everything out there. I know that when all that goes well, I can be in the fight for the gold medal and that’s what I’d love to do.”

To get the gold, though, she’ll have to beat a strong field led by Marit Bjoergen. The Norwegian won her fourth Olympic gold in the skiathlon, and is the defending champion in the sprint.

Her other main rivals include Germany’s Denise Herrmann and Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen of Norway. Jacobsen’s participation had been unclear after her younger brother died Friday, but the Norwegian team announced Monday she would compete in the sprint.

The sprints feature qualifying runs around the 1.3-kilometer course before quarterfinal heats and then semifinals. The top six skiers reach the final, with the winner often decided in a side-by-side race down the final straight.

Randall isn’t the only good sprinter on the U.S. team. She won the team sprint at last year’s world championships together with Jessica Diggins, while Simeon Hamilton won a Tour de Ski sprint this season on the men’s side.

Hamilton is among those with an outside chance at medal if some of the men’s favorites have an off-day.

“It’s been a great season,” Hamilton said. “I feel like my trajectory, training, is where it needs to be.”

But Randall is the real hope for an American victory that could give the sport a boost back home. The only American to win an Olympic cross-country medal was Bill Koch, who took silver in the men’s 30-kilometer race at the 1976 Innsbruck Games.

“It’s cool to realize that I’ve turned into the skier that I’ve always wanted to be,” Randall said. “I have a lot of confidence that if things go well I can be in contention for that medal. I am just excited to finally have a chance for that opportunity and to put our sport on the map.”

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