“As much as I would like to say my goal is to win a medal, my goal for this year is to finish in the top 12. That would be a huge improvement for me,” said Kikkan. A top 12 finish would mean she had reached the semifinals of the classic sprint.
“Ultimately, I want to show up on the race day feeling confident and relaxed. If I do that I know I will ski well. The Olympics are so special. I just want to take it all in and enjoy it,” said Kikkan.
Kikkan travels to her various events with anywhere from 40 to 60 different pairs of skis. Her team of coaches and technicians will stress themselves out right up until minutes before the race starts, trying to make sure they have picked the right skis and applied the right wax, but still Kikkan’s greatest weapon is her heart.
Deborah takes no credit for passing on any special abilities to Kikkan: “You can teach someone to ski, but you can’t teach that drive. It’s totally hers.”
Kikkan’s coach Erik Flora says he sees examples of her incredible will every single day, and he has no idea where it comes from.
When asked to pick his favorite Kikkan story, Flora tells of a training session that took place at the training glacier in Girdwood, shortly after Kikkan had suffered a blood clot in her leg. The blood clot had been so severe; it was very possible Kikkan would never race again. She had missed about six weeks of training when she joined her team at the glacier.
The plan was to do 10 intervals on the glacier, but after eight intervals, Kikkan looked a little disoriented and then collapsed. They determined she had collapsed from exhaustion and there was no danger to her health, but they told her to call it a day and go get some rest.
At first, she put her jacket on and started heading in, but next thing he knew, Flora saw her take off her jacket and head back to do two more intervals and finish her set of 10. Her last interval turned out to be her fastest time of the day.
“I don’t know how she gets there, but she figures out a way to get it done on a whole other level than what she expected or anyone else expected,” said Flora.
Seven months later, Kikkan became the only American woman to ever medal in the World Championships when she won a silver medal.
Kikkan is definitely in a position to ski amongst the best in the world,” said Flora. “If it was a skate sprint, I would say she was a medal favorite. With classic I would say she is going to be a contender.”
Kikkan sums up her success as follows:
“I’ve always loved challenges. For me, it’s fun to be all consumed in working toward something, gritting your teeth, pushing yourself through pain, challenging yourself mentally, overcoming setbacks, and feeling invincible.
I think I definitely got pieces of it from both of my parents as well as the rest of my friends and family. I’ve had some incredible coaches. My mom and dad like to joke around that they don’t understand where it came from because their personalities were a little bit different, but they certainly rubbed off and taught me a lot along the way. Their generous support and unconditional love has encouraged me along the way, and I think that has been really important. I’ve been allowed to push myself when I want and also get the support when I need it.”
Much of Kikkan’s life is spent on skis and much of that time on skis is spent in competitions, but deep down, Kikkan really loves the sport of skiing as much as she loves to compete.
“As much as I’ve been a racer and an athlete, the things that really stick out in my mind about skiing are those days where I’m just out and it’s a beautiful day and I’m just gliding along on my own power. It’s that feeling of gliding.”