ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A crowd of hundreds of Alaskans welcomed home Olympic gold medalist Kikkan Randall and many other Alaskans who competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Kikkan Randall signs autographs and greets fans at a celebration held honoring her and other Alaskan Olympians. (KTUU)
A Gold Medal Celebration was hosted by the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage in Town Square park Wednesday evening. Randall was joined by eight fellow Winter Olympians for the celebration.
Commemorative cardboard gold medals were handed out, and the band and cheerleading squad from East High, Randall’s alma mater, performed. Pink hairspray – celebrating Randall’s signature pink highlights – was sprayed on hair, mustaches and beards.
“We’ve been waiting a lifetime for (this), we’re just so proud,” said Jim Renkert, who along with Dr. Pete Mjos sported pink facial hair and U.S. ski team jackets from varying decades. Renkert said he’s been following Randall’s career since she was in high school. Mjos’ son skied with Randall at East High. “I’m gonna go to my grave with a pink mustache,” Mjos joked of the pink hair spray.
Before the event started, Randall reminisced about the welcome home for Tommy Moe, who won gold in downhill skiing in 1994, and Rosey Fletcher, who brought home a bronze in snowboarding in 2006. “I just got to witness firsthand and be inspired by their performances, so it’s really wonderful to bring this gold medal back, and be able to get it out there,” she said.
Randall rode up to the event by doing a lap around the block on an AFD fire truck, fitting that it too, was pink.
She was joined on the stage by fellow cross-country skiers Sadie and Erik Bjornsen, Rosie Brennan, Reese Hanneman, Tyler Kornfield, Paralympian Grace Miller, and Jessica Yeaton, who skied for team Australia. Rosie Mancari, who was on Team USA for snowboarding, but ruptured both Achilles tendons in training in Pyeongchang, was also there, as was Alaskan Keegan Messing, who competed in figure skating for Team Canada – he did a backflip on the stage.
Organizers also showed a video message from Andrew Kurka, who won silver and gold in downhill skiing in the Paralympic games.
Alaska’s First Lady Donna Walker and Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced Kikkan Randall, while Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz presented her with -- not a key to the city -- but the “Skis” to the city. Berkowitz also gained a pink hair stripe while on stage.
When she addressed the crowd, Randall thanked everyone for showing up. “We couldn’t be more proud to represent the state of Alaska,” she said.
She motioned to the crowd of small children gathered at the front of the stage, and again mentioned her memories of being inspired by Alaskans’ Olympic success.
“I grew up in Alaska where we support our Olympians,” she said, “We are excited. We believe in the impossible,” she said.
Many young Alaskans were in the crowd, gaining their own memories of an Olympic celebration. One, Ivy Eski, already trains with the APU ski team and is taking note.
“It’s really cool to have role models like that for us,” Eski said. She participated in Fast and Female, a group Randall leads to encourage girls to be active. “I've been skiing for a really long time, so she’s been a pretty big role model in my life for a long time.”
Randall and the other Olympians closed out the event by greeting fans, and signing autographs – It took Randall at least a half-hour to make it just a dozen yards from the stage through the crowd.
Back before the event, she told Channel 2 what she expected out of the celebration. “It’s just a great celebration for all of Alaska, and I hope that there’s a lot of our young, future Olympians in the crowd that are taking it all in and starting to dream about their aspirations.”