Keeping with tradition: Olympic skiing continues in the Caldwell family
Olympian Sophie Caldwell - who was honored in her hometown of Peru last week - represents the third generation of Caldwells who have competed in the Olympics and the second to have competed on the World Cup circuit.
In this year's Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, Caldwell took sixth place in the women's cross-country sprint final - the best U.S. finish ever by a female athlete in the event. She followed that up with her first ever podium at the beginning of this month, taking 3rd place and reaching the podium with teammate Kikkan Randall (1st) at the Lahti World Cup sprints in Finland.
"I definitely didn't expect that would come this year because going into last year it was a good day if I qualified in the top 30," said Caldwell. "I had made a few sprint finals up to that point, but I had never gotten a podium. I think my best finish was sixth place so it was really exciting to finally get on the podium and it was made even better to have my teammate Kikkan Randall win that day."
The finish was the first time two U.S. women reached the podium together in a World Cup event. The last time two American cross-country skiers reached the podium was in 1983 when Sophie's uncle, Tim Caldwell - who competed in the 1972, 1976, 1980 and 1984 Winter Olympics - and Bill Koch took 2nd and 3rd place in a 30-kilometer World Cup cross-country ski race in Anchorage, Alaska.
Sophie's performance both in the Olympics and the World Cup have thrilled not only her father Sverre Caldwell - Stratton Mountain School's Nordic Program Director - but her uncle Tim and her grandfather John Caldwell, both of who were Olympic Nordic skiers.
"It's great. That's third generation. For me that's big time stuff," said John Caldwell who competed in the 1952 Winter Olympics and also coached the U.S. (1968, 1972), Australian (1980) and Sarajevian (1984) Olympic cross-country teams in addition to serving as an Olympic official in 1960. "I was delighted. It's good for her. She has been slowly improving all year and then when she finished third place in Lahti that was great."
Tim Caldwell expressed similar sentiments.
"I'm so happy for her, just excited, really wildly happy for my brother and his wife Lilly ," he said. "It's a family business. We're delighted to see people continuing in it. I think my dad must be pleased as punch. I mean my brother has made a career of it. I was a ski racer. My sister raced a lot. My other brother skied a fair bit. My cousin is in the business and now Sophie and her siblings and we have a kid who's actually racing It's really fun."
Growing up, Caldwell said she always enjoyed hearing stories from her grandfather and uncle about their ski racing days and is now proud to continue what has become a family tradition by being a third generation Olympian. However, she said it was her parents that had the biggest influence on her career.
"I think probably the person who influenced me the most was my dad because he was a ski coach and so he's also very involved in the sport and I think he loved the fact that I loved to ski, but he never pressured me to be a ski racer," said Caldwell. "We grew up with skiing in our backyard and my mom was a ski racer, my dad is a ski coach so it's kind of what my family did growing up and I think they wanted us to learn to love the sport, but they didn't care if we took it to the next level or not. and so I think that just fostered a really healthy relationship with skiing and a bond with sports in general."
Sverre Caldwell said that Sophie was introduced to the sport from the time that she was old enough to walk and that she was on skis when she was a little over a year old.
While Sophie had raced in high school and throughout college, Sverre Caldwell said that she did not make the decision to pursue it as a career until February of her senior year in college.
"That happened to coincide with our team (the Elite T2 Team) and I think that made her decision easier because she was comfortable coming back and training under the Stratton umbrella," said Sverre Caldwell. "She knew the system and it was close to home and she had all her friends here."
Sophie began training with Stratton Mountain School's Elite T2 Team two years ago. After a good first year during which she was named to the U.S. Team, Sophie turned in a even better performance this year - something she believes has helped her throughout the season.
"I've gotten pretty comfortable being in the heats going head to head with some of the best sprinters in the world even if I still think of them as kind of tougher and stronger than I am," said Sophie Caldwell in an interview last week. "People often underestimate the mental part of skiing. So much of it is confidence and I think that's [gone] a long way the second half of the season. In the Olympics I never really thought I'd see myself in the sprint final, but I was there and I was really excited but I sort of looked at it as the exception and since then I've made two more sprint finals. I did in Lahti (Finland) and then I did this past weekend in Falun (Sweden)."
Despite the success that Caldwell had at the end of the season, she realizes there is still work to be done in order to take her skiing to an even greater level.
"I still have a lot of work to do once I make the final because I tend to get tired and finish sixth place out of six but I'm real confident in my rounds before the final," Caldwell said. "Each weekend I'm learning a lot more and so much of sprinting is tactical. So, I think my tactics are improving each weekend and I think just having the confidence that I belong in that sprint heat has gone a long way."
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