Kikkan Randall of Alaska is America's best cross-country skier, and she's ready and rested for this week's world championships in Norway.
To prepare for the worlds in Oslo, Randall left the World Cup circuit for a month before returning Sunday and winning the cross country sprits in Drammen, Norway.
She held off a strong field that included Norwegian favorites Maiken Caspersen Falla and Marit Bjoergen. This was Randall's second straight win and third of her career, and it put her back in first place in the World Cup standings.
The three-time Olympian said during a conference call from Oslo on Monday that she knows she made the right decision in taking a break to get some R&R in her hometown of Anchorage. She is following a plan that worked wonders at the Vancouver Games a year ago.
"Last year heading into the Olympics, I was fortunate to have the U.S. national championships in my hometown of Anchorage. I got to come home, do some racing, but then also spend a couple weeks after that just being at home and training in familiar territory and working with my team. And it really helped prepare me well for the Olympics," Randall said. "And I felt like we hit the peaking and the planning just right."
Randall reached the semifinals at Whistler, where the sprint was a classical race and her eighth-place finish only emboldened her hopes for the free technique sprint -- her best event -- at Holmenkollen on Thursday.
She didn't hesitate to return stateside as planned last month even though she was coming off a World Cup win in the freestyle sprint at Liberec, Czech Republic, where her silver medal at the 2009 worlds made her the first American woman to reach the podium at the world championships or Olympics.
This season, she'd been in Europe for two months, from the beginning of the World Cup through the Tour de Ski.
"After all that racing, we felt it would be good for me to come back and just sleep in my own bed and see my friends and get to spend a little time at home in a comfortable environment to get recharged and come back over here," Randall said. "And the plan looks like it's working really well."
Randall finished the 1.2-kilometer freestyle race Sunday in 2 minutes, 17.2 seconds for her third career victory and second straight sprint win. Falla crossed 0.3 seconds behind and Charlotte Kalla of Sweden was third, 0.6 seconds back.
"It was really nice to be able to get in a race before world championships, having taken the last month away from the World Cup and going back home for a bit and doing some training," Randall said. "It was just good to reconfirm that the fitness is there and that everything is coming together at the right time."
The Alaskan leads the sprint standings with 391 points, eight more than Arianna Follis of Italy. She had dropped out of the lead when she skipped a sprint in Russia earlier this month.
Randall said last month that she was focused on worlds, not the World Cup standings. But her win Sunday puts the World Cup points race on her radar.
"Yeah, it's a position I didn't expect to be in and it's a nice surprise," Randall said. "I can focus now on Thursday and on the world championships and getting through that and then it's nice to know when that ends, I'll still have two more weeks of World Cup to look forward to and a couple more sprints to try to stay up as high as I can in the overall rankings."
Randall said she has a lot more confidence going into Thursday's race than she did at the world championships two years ago, where her silver medal was part of an American Nordic skiing breakthrough.
Back then, she was eight months removed from a blood clot scare that threatened her career and was in the midst of an uneven season.
"So, the confidence was in a very different place," said Randall, who termed her silver medal "a nice surprise."
"This year, fast-forward a little bit and I've had a great season coming in. I've had a full year or a couple full years of great preparation, so I'm really just coming in feeling strong, feeling happy," Randall said. "I've got the experience under my belt now. But at the same time, I know it's sprinting and anything can happen."