(Note: This is the fourth in a series of interviews with athletes who will be competing at the first-ever winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria this winter. The first interview was with Sean Doherty, the second with Anna Kubek, the third with Nick Proell, and the fourth with Aleksandra Zakrzewska, all U.S. biathletes. The last was with Danielle Vrielink, a Canadian biathlete.)
As the one of the youngest members of a famous family, Paddy Caldwell has had a lot to live up to.
First of all, there’s the Olympic tradition: his grandfather John competed in the 1952 Games, and his father Tim competed in four more. When Caldwell was selected as America’s sole male nordic skier for the Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria in January, he took a big step toward continuing a family habit.
But on a day-to-day basis, things aren’t any easier for the young phenom. The Caldwells of his generation haven’t left much room for slacking, with cousin Sophie named Ski Racing’s 2009 Junior Nordic Skier of the Year; she was a three-time member of the World Junior team, while her sister Isabel has made the trip once. Caldwell’s older sister Heidi abandoned a promising ski career to run at Brown University, and last weekend she finished All-Ivy at Heptagonal Championships in cross-country.
And then there is the academic heritage. John, Tim, Sophie, Isabel, and now Austin Caldwell all attended or are currently enrolled at Dartmouth College. Caldwell’s mother went to Harvard. His oldest sister, Lucy, graduated from Cornell. Caldwell comes from a family of smart cookies.
You might think that all of these expectations would make a young man a bit uptight, but not Caldwell. Growing up in Lyme, New Hampshire, he joined the Ford Sayre Ski Club, where his obvious love of skiing was infectious and coaches said that he was a great friend, mentor, and role model for other athletes.
“He has been a lot of fun to work with because he takes it seriously but has fun at the same time,” said his uncle Sverre, the head coach at the Stratton Mountain School.
Last year Caldwell left Ford Sayre to join the Stratton program. Although he had notched standout results with Ford Sayre, including a junior national championship as a J2, Caldwell took racing to another level at Stratton.
In 2011 he raced inconsistently but seemed to always pop a big race where it counted. As a first-year J1, he finished ninth overall in the 10 k junior skate at US Nationals and secured a spot on the Scandinavian Cup squad. Then in Sweden he finished eighth in the 10 k skate, just over 30 seconds out of the win.
Besides being speedy, Caldwell also quickly integrated himself into the more lighthearted aspects of Stratton’s culture; he starred in one of the Revived Films B-Rolls this summer.
“Paddy was plenty fast before he came to SMS last year,” Sverre Caldwell told FasterSkier. “He is now training quite a bit more year round, and that should help long term, but he has been fast for several years. He is a hard worker; he pays attention to detail and takes care of himself. He is naturally quite strong and he loves the sport and competition. I think that as long as he continues to enjoy the process and work hard, he will do really well.”
There’s no reason to think that Paddy can’t do just that in Innsbruck this winter. FasterSkier talked to the soon-to-be Youth Olympian over e-mail to see how preparations were coming.
FasterSkier: You have a pretty famous last name in the ski world. Could you tell us a little bit about how you got into skiing as a kid?
Paddy Caldwell: Skiing has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have skied with my family in Mount Saint Anne since I was five years old. At first I did both alpine and cross country skiing, but never competed in either until I was in fifth grade.
FS: When did you get serious about racing?
PC: I first raced at the Bill Koch League Festival when I was in fifth grade. The fun and excitement of this event motivated me to attend more competitions. After that I wanted to get faster and to race as much as I could.
FS: You didn’t make the decision to go to Stratton Mountain School until partway through high school; what made you decide to switch clubs, and how easy or difficult was that choice?
PC: Being a part of the Stratton Mountain School team has been amazing. I am really happy to be there. I saw SMS as an opportunity to attend more races and to work with a larger team. Making the choice to switch schools and ski programs, however, was really difficult for me. Skiing with Ford Sayre was amazing, but it was hard missing weeks of school at a time for races. At Stratton we are able to work individually with teachers before and after competitions in order to stay on top of our studies.
FS: The decision seems to have paid off as you had a pretty stellar season last year. Could you talk about some of the highlights?
PC: Placing eighth in Sweden was a big highlight for me. Being a part of the J1 Trip was an awesome experience. I also had some good races at Junior Nationals, placing fifth in both the sprint and individual start races.
FS: Did your eighth-place finish in Sweden surprise you?
PC: That was a really cool experience because I went into the race without any knowledge of my competitors from other countries. I wasn’t really thinking much about results that day. I remember coming into the stadium to start my second lap and hearing over the loud speaker that I was in the top ten. After that I just went for it.
FS: What did you learn from that first major international competition that will help you at the Youth Olympic Games?
PC: I learned that every fraction of a second counts when racing in such deep fields.
FS: Has it changed your approach to the season to know that you will be on this trip, rather than having to focus on racing well to qualify, and then peaking a second time?
PC: Knowing that I have already qualified for the YOG is great because now I can just think about my performance at the competitions. But my approach to this season is the same, there are lots of races later in the winter and every race is important.
FS: There’s only one other American nordic skier going to Innsbruck, and it’s your Stratton teammate Heather Mooney! Do you think it will give you any sort of a boost to have your teammate be someone you already know so well?
PC: Definitely. It will be awesome to travel with a close friend and teammate. Another big bonus is that Sverre will be our head coach for the trip.
FS: What are you looking forward to most about the Games?
PC: I am really excited to see Innsbruck and the Olympic village. I am also looking forward to meeting skiers and other athletes from around the world!