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Volume 20 No. 45
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Skier aims for spot on key IOC commission

American Kikkan Randall will be competing for a medal and a spot on the IOC Athletes’ Commission in Pyeongchang.
Kikkan Randall will head to Pyeongchang for her fifth and final Winter Olympics as a favorite to win the United States’ first medal in women’s cross-country skiing, a moment that would define a career and an entire sport in the U.S.

But there’s another momentous competition awaiting Randall in South Korea. She’ll be running for a seat on the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission, which comes along with a vote at the IOC itself.

If she wins, she’ll gain a seat at the most important table in international sport for the next eight years. If she loses, the U.S. won’t be able to replace current member and Athlete Commission Chair Angela Ruggiero, whose eight-year term is expiring, leaving the U.S. with just two voting IOC members for the first time since a brief window from 2008 to 2010.

The U.S. Olympic Committee chose Randall in a domestic process to stand for election but is otherwise prohibited from campaigning on her behalf. In fact, under rules designed to prevent large countries from overwhelming the process, all campaigning is prohibited until the Games. By then, of course, she’ll be busy.

“The events I’m targeting at the Olympics are going to be all the way up until the end, and I’m going to be pretty focused,” Randall said. “I just hope my reputation can speak for itself and I can share my passion, and we’ll see what happens.”

The importance of a single seat on the IOC is near an all-time low as President Thomas Bach and circumstances have conspired to consolidate control with the 15-member executive board. But nevertheless, the U.S. does not want to lose any influence in Lausanne.

Richard Peterkin, an IOC member from St. Lucia, said large countries like the U.S., Russia and China will always be heard regardless of how many voting members they have. But an official vote does help.

“The USOC had no problem getting their points across even when [Chairman] Larry Probst was not a member,” Peterkin said. “When he became one it made it easier, but he was still invited to everything.”

Rank-and-file members can work to make themselves more important once they’re on the inside, too. Ruggiero started out as a new athlete member in 2010 but now sits on the executive board, providing close council to Bach.

Canadian IOC member Dick Pound, the body’s longest-serving member, notes that athletes can end up with outsized influence because they’re in high demand for committees, citing the prominent roles taken on recently by Ruggiero, French member Tony Estanguet, British member Adam Pengilly and Canadian Beckie Scott. “Touch wood, we’ve had pretty good representation,” he said, though he has reservations about running the vote during the Games while athletes are focused on their own events.

Randall, 34, talks about helping career Olympians transition into new careers and improving governance, but like many aspects of the Olympic movement today, her candidacy primarily will be seen through the lens of doping scandals and the IOC’s response to them.

Aside from her success on the snow, where she’s the first American to win a World Cup title, Randall is perhaps best known globally as former chair of the International Ski Federation’s athlete commission. In 2016, she and more than 100 other skiers signed a public letter insisting the IOC and FIS take doping more seriously, an effort that culminated with a meeting with FIS President Gian-Franco Kasper in February.

In more recent months, she’s avoided making any specific demands about the outcome of pending cases against individual Russian athletes and the broader question of a total ban on Team Russia. But, she says, she wants to help the movement work toward a more effective anti-doping system.

Mentioning her 20-month-old son, Breck, she said, “I want to see the Olympics continue to be a positive force in the world, so whether he grows up to be a fan or in the competition, the Olympics will still mean a lot to him. The Olympics is at a crucial point right now.”

The other five candidates are Italian luger Armin Zöggeler, Norwegian cross-country skier Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, Spanish skeleton athlete Ander Mirambell, Finnish hockey player Emma Terho and Chinese speedskater Zhang Hong.

The top-two vote-getters out of six win, but two athletes in the same sport cannot be chosen at the same time. So Randall must defeat Jacobsen.

Experts believe most athletes are prone to support candidates from their own country, or at least from their own sport, a natural advantage for a cross-country skier (a discipline with many spots on the Olympic team) from a large country. All athletes at Pyeongchang will be eligible to vote.