The story of the day for the Americans may have been Kikkan Randall, but Sophie Caldwell quietly turned in another strong performance, earning points in her fifth consecutive World Cup sprint.
Now ranked thirteenth in the Sprint Cup, Caldwell skied to fifteenth in the Nove Mesto, Czech Republic freestyle sprint, just missing advancing to the semifinals.
Caldwell wrote in an email that she “felt great” in qualification, skiing well on a course that she described as “really flat.”
In the quarterfinals, she got off to a good start, and sat comfortably, shifting between third and fourth through the first part of the race.
But as she stepped out to move around a fading skier on the last climb, they tangled briefly.
The two ended up just off the back, and appeared out of the running.
But Caldwell closed the gap on the final gradual descent into the stadium.
“It’s a gradual downhill finish, which is a little awkward because I didn’t really know which technique to use,” Cladwell wrote. “Kikkan [Randall] was rocking the no-pole skate, some people were V2 alternating, and some people were V2ing. I can’t remember exactly what I did, but I think I tried a little of everything.”
Round the final corner, Caldwell said she decided to cut inside, a move that worked well as the shorter line led her to an open lane for the homestretch.
“I don’t remember which technique I used, but I know there was a girl coming up from behind and two right in front of me, so I just tried to put my head down and go,” she wrote.
She ran out of snow however, and ended up no more than 12 inches out of second, behind Norwegian Kathrine Harsem.
Caldwell raced the first five stages of the 2014 Tour de Ski, before withdrawing as planned. She caught a cold immediately after the Tour, but said she has been feeling good over the past several days.
The 23-year-old burst onto the World Cup scene last year with a pair of top-30 performances in the Canadian World Cups. She earned a trip to Europe and World Championships, where she continued to show her potential.
This year she has raised her game to another level, and with each race her confidence is improving.
“It’s a good feeling to know I can be right in there on a good day … Sometimes it’s hard because you get a taste of a top 10 or an A final and you want to keep improving each weekend and think you should now be doing that each time,” Caldwell wrote. “That’s realistic for someone like Kikkan, but I’m not at that level yet, so I remind myself after a day like today that this is still a really good result for me. I think it’s important to keep things in perspective, but it’s also definitely okay to dream big because that’s the only way you will find yourself at the top.”
U.S. Ski Team head Coach Chris Grover had nothing but praise for the World Cup sophomore.
“I was psyched about the way she skied,” Grover said in a post-race phone interview. “She was really aggressive out there, and she made some awesome moves at times too.”
Ida Sargent was unable to match her teammates, failing to advance to the heats, and finishing fiftieth on the day.
“The qualifier was really horrible today,” Sargent wrote in an email.
Despite the disappointing performance, she said she feels like she is in a “great place” coming off a training block, and will focus on building speed as the Olympics approach.
Grover said that Sargent was “a little baffled” at her result, but he is unconcerned.
“She felt like she skied pretty well. I have a feeling for Ida that she has been out training on her own over the Christmas period so she just needs to get back into racing to get going,” he said.
Two Canadian women raced, with Dasha Gaiazova leading the way in thirteenth.
After a strong start in her quarterfinal, Gaiazova appeared to fade before staging a comeback similar to Caldwell’s. She came down the homestretch in a hurry, losing out to Swede Stina Nilsson in a photo finish for second in the heat.
Perianne Jones was 39th.
— Matt Voisin contributed reporting.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.