(Note: This article has been updated to include comments from Paddy Caldwell.)
Three years ago, American Patrick “Paddy” Caldwell made his debut at Junior World Championships, racing to 10th in the 20-kilometer skiathlon in Val di Fiemme, Italy. It was the first time he had ever done a skiathlon; he was 19 years old and a college freshman at the time.
Now a 22-year-old Dartmouth sophomore, who continues to train with the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) as a member of the U.S. Ski Team’s development “D” team, Caldwell (son of four-time Olympic cross-country skier Tim Caldwell and cousin of current U.S. Ski Team standout Sophie Caldwell) is in his third U23 World Championships. The skiathlon distance has increased to 30 k, yet that classic-to-skate race remained his main focus for this year’s U23 Worlds at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah.
Earlier this week, he broke through with his best-ever sprint result at the championships, reaching the quarterfinals and placing 18th overall in the classic sprint. Then, on Thursday in the men’s 15 k freestyle, he cracked the top 10 for the first time in his U23/Junior Worlds career.
“I was really excited going into today’s race,” Caldwell wrote in an email on Friday morning. “15km FS is one of my favorite race formats. I have been targeting this week of races all year and was really looking forward to this race in particular.”
While the sprint was a primer for Caldwell, he said it also boosted his confidence leading into the two individual distance races at U23s.
“I have been working on my sprinting a lot this year and I am psyched to be mixing it up in the heats!” he wrote.
He described the conditions on Thursday as hard-packed with a fair amount of moisture, “which made for some fast skiing.”
It was overcast — grey and spitting rain at times — a stark contrast from the preceding bluebird days. But with temperatures just below freezing, the course remained firm.
“My strategy for the day was to pin it from the start and hold on,” said Caldwell, who started 44th of 53 in the men’s three-lap, individual start race, in a post-race interview with the U.S. Ski Team. “It was a really tight race and I definitely paid for my first lap, but I am happy to have put it all out there.”
After being passed by Russia’s eventual winner Alexander Bolshunov, who started 30 seconds behind him in bib 45, Caldwell initially finished sixth, 1:03.6 minutes behind Bolshunov. Three later starters ultimately bumped the American to ninth, including Russia’s Alexey Chervotkin, who took second at the finish, 21.8 seconds behind Bolshunov (who won in 32:55.7).
“I started off with a fast first lap and was getting splits between 1st and 4th for the first five or six kilometers,” Caldwell recalled in an email. “Bolshunov caught me around 7 kms into the race… I skied with him for about 1.5km but on the big downhill halfway through the 5km loop another skier slotted in between us and Bolshunov ended up gapping us before I could get around the other skier — it would have been sweet to ski with him some more but who knows how long I could have stuck with him. I could see him for the rest of the race which was a good gauge and kept me pushing to make up time on him.
For the second-straight day of 2017 Junior/U23 World Championships, Russia claimed all of the medals in the men’s race, with Denis Spitsov placing third (+28.2).
“It’s very, very cool,” Bolshunov, the silver medalist in Tuesday’s classic sprint, told the U.S. Ski Team media. “I couldn’t explain my emotions now, it’s really cool.”
“I was really excited to be in the mix with the top guys today,” Caldwell told the U.S. Ski Team. “U23s have been my focus all year and I am psyched to have improved on my results from past U23 and World Junior races.”
Next up for Caldwell, Saturday’s skiathlon, which will be his first since placing 20th in the 2015 skiathlon in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
“I have only done two skiathlons (Val de Fiemme and Almaty) but both were really fun and exciting races,” he wrote. “Mass start races are always a blast!”
Four American men raced the 15 k, with Adam Martin (Northern Michigan University) placing 22nd (+2:22.4), Jack Hegman (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation) 24th (+2:25.2), and Cal Deline (Dartmouth Ski Team) 37th (+3:48.6). For Martin, 22nd was his best at U23 Worlds by one place, and Hegman and Deline also notched personal bests at their first U23 Worlds.
Evan Palmer-Charrette (NTDC Thunder Bay) led Canadian men in 34th (+3:20.2) for his best result at his U23 Worlds debut as well. Alexis Dumas, of the Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre (CNEPH) followed in 38th (+3:52.9), tying his U23 best. Julien Lamoureux (CNEPH) was 43rd (+4:16.7) in his first race of U23 Worlds, and Scott James Hill (Team Hardwood) 49th (+6:15.2).
Second-Straight Win for Dyvik; Beatty 16th
In the women’s 10 k freestyle, Dahria Beatty (Alberta World Cup Academy/Canadian National U25 Team) notched her second top 20 of the week in 16th, after placing 12th in Tuesday’s classic sprint.
She finished the two-lap 10 k in 27:39.8, more than a minute faster than her 10 k freestyle time at 2017 U.S. nationals last month (where she finished 17th. Beatty went on to place fourth in the classic sprint and win the freestyle prologue at U.S. nationals).
On Thursday, she was 1:25.8 minutes back from the winner, Sweden’s Anna Dyvik, who racked up her second-straight gold of the championships with the best time of the day in 26:14.0.
“Today’s race played out fairly similarly to the 10k skate at US Nationals, but not on an extreme of scale,” Beatty wrote in an email, referring to the conditions. “I was skiing where I wanted to be for the first two thirds of the race but then I really struggled at the end.
“Today’s race was extremely hard,” she added. “The courses here are really tough by any standard and the altitude makes it even harder. I tried to go out fairly conservatively by my standards today as I like starting fast. I was able to start smooth and build through the first lap into the second and was sitting in a good position just in the top 10.”
Despite trying to pace her race, Beatty described “blowing up” in the last 2.5 k.
“The last big climb was a very painful one today,” she wrote. “I haven’t quite figured out the 5k course here at Soldier Hollow yet and how to save something in my legs for the end but I was happy with my effort. I raced hard and used the tactics that I thought would give me the best result possible. I was hoping to be able to be in the top 12 but am still pleased to have skied at that pace for part of the race.”
Beatty started 32nd (of 44) and Dyvik in bib 33 passed her around 5 k.
“I only skied with her for a few hundred meters, she was moving fast and I knew if I tried to stay with her I would end of blowing up and really paying for it later in the race,” Beatty wrote.
The top Canadian in the last two U23 races, Beatty planned to race Saturday’s 15 k skiathlon.
“I’m looking forward to the Skiathlon with hopes of being able to put together a bit stronger of a performance all the way to the finish line not just for part of the race,” Beatty wrote. “Mass starts are always exciting and I am looking forward to doing some pack skiing, it was pretty windy out there today.”
Dyvik outlasted four Norwegians for the win, which she took by 16.8 seconds over Norway’s Tiril Udnes Weng (Heidi Weng’s cousin) in second. Norway claimed second through fourth place, with Lovise Heimdal in third (+23.0), and Lotta Udnes Weng (Weng’s twin sister) just 0.1 seconds off the podium in fourth (+23.1).
Half a second behind Beatty, the Czech Republic’s Petra Hyncicova (University of Colorado-Boulder Ski Team) finished 17th (+1:26.3) for her first top 20 at her second U23 Worlds.
Canada’s Frédérique Vézina (CNEPH) finished 25th (+1:58.8) for a career best at her second U23 Worlds as well, Katherine Stewart-Jones (NTDC Thunder Bay/NST U25 Team) was 27th (+2:07.8), and Jenn Jackson (Lappe Nordic/Team Hardwood) 37th (+3:31.8).
Kelsey Phinney (SVSEF) led the Americans in 30th (+2:24.6), Jesse Knori (University of Colorado-Boulder) was 32nd (+2:36.4), Alayna Sonnesyn (University of Vermont) 33rd (+2:51.4) in her first U23 Worlds race, and Nichole Bathe (University of Alaska Fairbanks) 39th (+4:19.8).
Australia’s Casey Wright (University of Alaska Anchorage Ski Team) followed in 40th (+4:22.0).