KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Kikkan Randall's attempt at becoming the first American woman to win an Olympic cross-country skiing medal fell well short Tuesday when she was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the women's individual freestyle sprint.
Randall finished fourth of six skiers in a tough heat that featured defending champion Marit Bjoergen of Norway and German sprint specialist Denise Herrmann. Those two advanced, along with Gaia Vuerich of Italy, who had the second best time of the third-place finishers in the five heats.
Randall, a two-time World Cup sprint champion from Anchorage, Alaska, waited to see if her time would be good enough as well, but then shrugged to the camera when she found out it wasn't.
"I've been thinking about this race for a long time," Randall said. "I was really happy with the way the preparation has been coming into the games. I felt really strong and ready to go today. My No. 1 goal was to come in ready to go and fight for the medal and give it everything I had. And I did do that today."
It wasn't supposed to end so quickly though. Randall had won two World Cup sprint races in January and was seen one of the biggest challengers to Bjoergen coming into the Olympics. Randall led her quarterfinal heat coming into the final straight but was quickly overtaken by Bjoergen and Herrmann, before Vuerich pipped her at the line. The Italian finished 0.05 seconds ahead of Randall, which was good enough to advance.
"I knew it was going to be a really tough quarterfinal with Herrmann, Bjoergen, these are all women you can easily see in the final," Randall said. "I was feeling really good and was ready to come off that final turn and have a good finish stretch, but that final gear wasn't quite there and unfortunately I fell apart a little bit before the finish. (Five) hundreds of a second is an incredibly close margin and I am sure I will be living those moments hundreds of times in my head."
Jessica Diggins, who won the team sprint world championship title with Randall last year, said her teammate's attitude after the setback only made her respect the Alaskan more.
"Anyone can be a fantastic sports woman when they win," said Diggins, who also went out in the quarterfinals. "But when something disappointing happens, to see her put on her smile and say, 'You know what? I skied the best I could and I am proud of that.' That is so inspiring. She is such a great role model for me. That's even more important than winning -- being able to lose with extreme grace and sportsmanship."
There was an American in the final, however, as Sophie Caldwell surprisingly advanced and finished sixth. Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway won the race, while Bjoergen was knocked out in the semis after falling on the final straight.
Randall is also likely to compete for the U.S. in the 4x5-kilometer relay and team sprint, but this was her best chance at a medal. "Just to come in the games as a gold medal contender was incredible," Randall said. "I wish I would have been able to fight for that in a few more rounds today."