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Alaska's Kikkan Randall starts strong, but U.S. fades in relay

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Posted: Friday, February 26, 2010 3:58 am | Updated: 12:56 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

• For complete Olympics coverage, visit our Olympics page.

• Matias Saari is in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Games. Get the Alaska perspective here.

WHISTLER OLYMPIC PARK — Kikkan Randall keeps on kickin’.

The Anchorage Nordic skier led off for the Americans on Thursday in the women’s 4X5-kilometer relay, and using classic technique she kicked to a fourth-place first leg just 10 seconds behind the leader from Sweden.

“I’ve been on the World Cup a few years now, and I knew that if I could put together a good race that I could bring our team in near the front,” she said.

Randall’s teammates, however, couldn’t keep the pace and the U.S. placed 12th of 16 teams. Norway won in 55 minutes, 19 seconds and the U.S. was 3:38 back.

Holly Brooks, of Anchorage, struggled in the second classic leg, dropping 1:34 to the leaders.

“I’m just not feeling 100 percent,” Brooks said. “I don’t know if I have some underlying sickness. My head was hurting a lot at the end of the race, and my legs kind of fluttered.”

Morgan Arritola (Ketchum, Idaho) and Caitlin Compton (Minneapolis) finished up with skating legs for the Americans.

Randall, who was eighth in the individual classic sprint on Feb. 17, is encouraged by the team’s improvement.

“We have to take small steps. We’re not going to do it overnight,” she told reporters after the race. “We’ve made huge leaps and bounds since 2002 and 2006 (Olympics), and we’re getting closer all the time and expecting more and more.”

The final women’s cross-country race will be the 30-kilometer classic on Saturday.

Alaskans Jay Hakkinen and Jeremy Teela will conclude their competition in the men’s 4X7.5-kilometer biathlon relay today. Hakkinen has the second leg and Teela is the anchor.

From UAF to Vancouver

Peter Barton made a rapid ascent from an assistant ski coach in college to the men’s head cross country coach for the Slovakian National Team.

Barton spent two seasons at the University of Utah before joining former head coach Bill McDonnell with the Alaska Nanooks in 2002.

Barton left Fairbanks in 2004, competed for two years as a World Cup winter triathlete and then in 2006 was asked by friends in the Slovakian Nordic skiing community to take over its national squad.

“My four years of experience in the U.S. helped me a lot,” said Barton, who was a wax technician and helped with training plans and other tasks at UAF. “That moved me forward.”

One of the athletes who Barton helped recruit to the Nanooks is competing for Slovakia at these Olympics. Michal Malak spent the 2002-03 season at UAF before returning to Slovakia to focus more on skiing.

Can’t curl in the summer

Natalie Nicholson spent the summers of 1999 and 2000 in Fairbanks working for Princess Tours and Cruises. It was a curling friend from junior competitions, Jennifer Herning, who help instigate the temporary move.

“I met so many wonderful people,” Nicholson said.

She didn’t curl there because the Fairbanks Curling Club is shut down in summer. But Nicholson’s career blossomed later and she competed for the U.S. at these Olympics as the four-person team’s first rock thrower.

While the Olympics experience — particularly the opening ceremonies — has been exciting, the competition was a disappointment. The U.S. finished last in the women’s round-robin tournament at 2-7 after losing several tight games.

“It was just simply not executing,” Nicholson, of Bemidji, Minn., said by phone following the last match against Switzerland on Tuesday.

Ice Alaska carvers

The path to Vancouver went through Fairbanks for Greg Butauski and Jeff Petercsak.

Because of their performance at the 2009 Ice Alaska in Fairbanks, the ice carvers from Columbus, Ohio, qualified for a competition in Richmond, British Columbia (just outside Vancouver) that was part of the Olympic Arts Festival.

“Anytime you get a chance to represent your country, it’s a great honor to do so,” Butauski said by phone Thursday.

Butauski and Petercsak carved a large bass chasing a lure in the 10-block team sculpture event on Feb. 20. The next day, Butauski took part in the single-block event.

Another team from the U.S. won a gold medal — although not an Olympic medal since the activity isn’t officially part of the Olympics — while the Ohioans received a special judges award for their work.

Ice carving has been included during the Winter Olympics since the 1988 Calgary games. In 1994, Steve Dean, of Fairbanks, won a bronze medal in Hamar, Norway, near Lillehammer.

Contact staff writer Matias Saari at msaari@newsminer.com.

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