SEEFELD IN TIROL, Austria—
Today’s evening sprints in Seefeld were big for the Scandinavians. Having walked away from the sole distance event of Games with nothing but a pair of clunky 4th place “wooden medals”, the Nordic powerhouse nations came out this evening with their guns blazin’. But the Americans, specifically members of the Caldwell family, have a history of turning heads in Seefeld. This time around it was young Paddy who made quite a splash, skiing his way to a top 5 finish in the Men’s Sprint event at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games.
Gone were the familiar bluebird skies above Seefeld on Thursday afternoon—in their place were all too typical Central European conditions: overcast skies with a light drizzle. Qualification for both fields kicked off at 3:45pm, with athletes completing a fast, glazed course of exactly 1km.
With a slight climb out of the start followed by a fast downhill, athletes had just enough time to catch their breath before tackling the sole major climb into the 300 meter flat finishing straight. As is par for the course in all sprint racing, snappy, clean starts and all-out finishes were essential.
Going into the event, Coach Sverre Caldwell set realistic goals for the two US skiers, former Stratton teammates Heather Mooney and Paddy Caldwell.
“You just don’t know when you come to a place like this, which will have really great sprinters,” Caldwell told FasterSkier, “With such a strong field, our goal was to get both athletes into the heats, and do the best we could from there. A top 20 finish would have been excellent— a top 10 finish would have been outstanding.”
Norwegians settle the score in the Women’s Sprint—
In the Women’s field, Mooney cranked out a solid qualifier, ending up 23rd, 11 seconds off of Norwegian Silje Theodorsen’s winning split. The effort placed her into the fifth quarterfinal heat, lining up against several heavy hitters including 3rd ranked Linn Eriksen of Norway, and Classic Gold Medalist from Tuesday, Anastasia Sedova of Russia.
Mooney started out her heat strong, scrambling over the first climb in 3rd position, slotted directly behind the favorites. But at the base of the climb heading towards the finishing straight, Russian Alisa Zhambalova collided with Mooney’s pole, snapping it in half.
Despite grabbing a spare pole on course from Tim Caldwell, Paddy’s father, Mooney couldn’t make up the deficit to the leaders and came across 4th in her heat, good for 24th overall.
Out to set the record straight, the Norwegian duo of Silje Theodorsen and Linn Eriksen advanced handily through their quarterfinal and semifinal heats, propelling the two into the final alongside the two Slovenians—Anamarija Lampic and Lea Einfalt— who turned heads during Tuesday’s Classic race.
In a heated charge to the line during the dramatic final, Theodorsen surged with ten meters to go, crashing into the finish line to take the Gold ahead of Swede Jonna Sundling, who took Silver, and teammate Eriksen, who came across for Bronze.
Men’s Race—Cunning Caldwell hunts down Lucky Loser spots to make the final
The 50 men’s racers completed the same 1km course as the women, and the fast qualifying times demonstrated the depth of the field—8 seconds separated the 30 top qualifiers.
Paddy Caldwell, who considers himself to be more of a longer distance specialist, managed to produce a solid qualifying effort— placing 18th, 5 seconds back of the leader, Andreas Molden of Norway.
“When I think about sprinting, I think more about survival,” Caldwell told FasterSkier. “I think about trying to get through the heats as far as I can. In my head, I was aiming for a top ten finish.”
Paddy and his Coach, Sverre, both knew that in order for a top ten finish to come to fruition, they’d need to make every second count, and that strategy included hunting down Lucky Loser positions in each heat.
“I kept reminding Paddy, ‘You can still qualify, even in fourth, because of the Lucky Losers’, and that’s how he did it,” Sverre told FasterSkier.
In his Quarterfinal heat, Caldwell was paired up with some ringers, including the 3rd fastest qualifier Chrisander Holth of Norway, and Marcus Ruus of Sweden.
Despite a fast start in the Quarter, Paddy slipped to 6th coming into the final hill. Sensing that the two athletes in front of him were beginning to fade, Caldwell punched the gas.
“Especially during that Quarterfinal, there were two guys right with me. I had the inside lane, and they didn’t look like they were really going, so I took charge and got that spot for 4th,” Caldwell told FasterSkier.
He didn’t know it in the finish pen, taking off his transponders, but his quarterfinal heat turned out to be the fastest of the day. He and Holth, the Norwegian, took the two coveted Lucky Loser spots, squeaking their way into the Semifinals.
With his two sisters— Heidi and Lucy, father Tim, Uncle Sverre, and the whole Mooney clan cheering him on from the stands, Caldwell powered his way around the course during the Semifinal. His boards were flying, a benefit of having Biathlon Coach Piotr Bednarski out on course testing during the Qualifiers, and Caldwell hammered it into the finish for 3rd place, coming in just behind Germany’s Marius Cerbulla and Sweden’s Ruus.
Again, the Vermonter had given just enough gas to earn a second Lucky Loser slot, punching his ticket for the Sprint finals. The stars seemed to align for the young skier. Perhaps it was the advice Sverre whispered in his ear that made the difference, or maybe the slippery boards. It might have even been a touch of that Caldwell family magic that seemed to work so well in the 4x10km relay during the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck.
“Nope,” said his father Tim after the race, “he did this race all on his own, and his Coach gave him the advice—I just try and stay out of the way.”
With a boisterous US crew cheering him on, Caldwell cranked it home in the Men’s final, finishing 5th. A tight finish, he crossed the line a scant 2.9 seconds back from the Norwegian Molden, who took the victory ahead of Germany’s Cebulla and Alexander Selyaninov of Russia.
While he might not have all the necessary fast-twitch muscles of the top sprinters, the young Caldwell has clearly developed an eye for fast racing, knowing exactly how to get the job done. As he told FasterSkier during a pre-event interview this past November on lessons learned from European racing:
“I learned that every fraction of a second counts when racing in such deep fields.”
Indeed. Things are looking promising for the next crop of young American racers.
Nordic action continues Saturday afternoon with the Biathlon-Cross Country Mixed Relay in Seefeld Stadium.