Kikkan Randall, from teenage running star to making Olympic history

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) Kikkan Randall's Olympic story started years ago. Go back in time to the 90s, or even further, when Randall was a young girl, braces included, she would most often be found blazing down a trail, running faster than almost everyone.

Channel 2 sifted through countless old tapes to see the progression of Randall's career.

One story from 1998 highlights Randall's running abilities and her cross country skiing relationship with Nina Kemppel, who was the queen of U.S nordic skiing for more than a decade. Kemppel competed in four Winter Olympics and had multiple national championships.

"Can Kikkan be better than a 13-time national champ?," a Channel 2 sports writer asked in 1998. "Not yet, but maybe someday."

The East High School grad was always driven, born into a running family with an uncle who also competed in the Olympics.

When she was 12 years old, Randall loaded up into Coach Joey Caterinichio's car, (she always requested the song "Barbie Girl" be played on the car radio) and began her cross country skiing career with gusto. Caterinichio, who is also famous for her involvement in the sport, coached Randall at junior nationals and went with Randall to Sochi for the Winter Games.

Caterinichio says Randall was always special, although she wasn't always the best skier. She says Randall's work ethic and natural abilities pushed her to the level she competes at now.

"You could tell there was something special about her for sure," Caterinichio said, "did you think she'd make Olympic gold? You hope everybody has that dream."

Former teammate Holly Brooks, who retired after the Sochi games, watched Randall and Jessie Diggins make history Wednesday morning, becoming the first Americans to win an Olympic gold medal in cross-country skiing.

They are the first American cross-country skiers to medal at the Olympics since Bill Koch took home a silver in 1976.

"This is great and this medal just really puts our sport on the map," Brooks said.

Brooks said at times sprint racers are going upwards of 40 miles per hour. She says recently there has been a huge push to make cross-country exciting to a broader audience.

"I hope it was an exciting race even for those outside of the close-knit Nordic community," Brooks said.

Caterinichio, like many other bleary-eyed Alaskans, was up early Wednesday morning to watch what she hoped would be Randall's first Olympic victory.

"I have to say I had a couple of tears in my eyes," Caterinichio said, "and really thought about what she has done for this sport but most importantly what she's done for the team. She has really been a trail blazer. She just opened up doors and everyone's following her."

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