Kikkan Randall

American cross-country skier Kikkan Randall is one of four skiers who have honed their skills while training in the glacier environment at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage. Despite operating on a small budget, the university's club cross-country team has churned out several world-class skiers. (Richard Heathcote / Getty Images / February 11, 2014)

SOCHI, Russia — The campus at Alaska Pacific University isn't quite large enough for a football stadium.

The small liberal arts college near downtown Anchorage has no basketball arena. There is no softball field.

But when it comes to sports, APU offers something almost no other American school can.

A glacier.

FRAMEWORK: Best images from Sochi

This body of dense ice — and the promise of long, cold winters — attracts world-class athletes to APU's only sports program, its cross-country squad.

And that makes the school of fewer than 700 students a very big deal to the U.S. Olympic cross-country team.

APU accounts for four of the 14 American racers at the Sochi Games. Two of them — including star Kikkan Randall — will compete in the men's and women's team sprints Wednesday.

Imagine alumni from Whittier College filling a third of one team's roster at the Super Bowl.

"It's really cool," said Randall, who has excelled on the World Cup circuit but fell short in the women's sprint event here last week. "We really feel like we're a part of something."

The university consists of a dozen buildings on 170 wooded acres. Cross-country is a club sport, the elite team of 25 students and nonstudents surviving on what university President Don Bantz called "a shoestring budget."

"The fact that we're competing with these superpowers is pretty remarkable," he said.

Bantz was referring to countries such as Norway and Sweden that spend more on ski wax than APU can afford for its Nordic Ski Center. But the school has other resources.

Eagle Glacier is only 40 minutes away by car and helicopter. The team practices there three weeks each summer, logging snow time while racers in other parts of the world make do with running and roller skiing.

The Alaskan winter, often stretching from October to May, provides ample training opportunities the rest of the year.

APU also benefits from having a world-class talent in Randall, who sets an example for teammates, and a coach who transformed the program eight years ago.

As a cross-country skier, Erik Flora made NCAA All-American but never reached his goal of qualifying for the Olympics.

"I made a lot of wrong turns in my career," said the coach, who is also in Sochi as a U.S. assistant. "My first goal in coaching is to steer athletes in the right direction."

Blending experimental training ideas with a few tricks he learned during a year in Norway, Flora preaches hard work. Lots of it.

Randall figures her workload increased by 30% when Flora showed up. The following year, she won her first World Cup medal.