InterviewsNewsInterview: Sophie Caldwell Reflects on Her Groundbreaking Season

Avatar Lander KarathJuly 31, 2014
U.S. teammate Kikkan Randall (l) and Sophie Caldwell celebrate the first U.S. women's double podium in a 2014 World Cup skate sprint in Lahti, Finland. (Photo: Fischer/Nordic Focus)
U.S. teammate Kikkan Randall (l) and Sophie Caldwell celebrate the first U.S. women’s double podium in a 2014 World Cup skate sprint in Lahti, Finland. (Photo: Fischer/Nordic Focus)

BOZEMAN, Mont. — When talking with the Sophie Caldwell, her humble demeanor would never reveal that she claimed the highest Olympic finish by a U.S. woman in cross country skiing at the 2014 Games. From her simple goals of increased experience and continued enjoyment of the sport, it would be hard to guess that she was part of the first U.S. women’s double podium with Kikkan Randall in the Lahti, Finland World Cup this past season.

Both she and her sister, Isabel, are alumni of Dartmouth College and come from a family that has been a major part of the American nordic ski in recent decades. While the Caldwell name is often associated with success, they both agree that they’ve never felt pressure because of their family legacy.

During their recent trip to Bozeman, Mont. to visit their cousin and former UNH skier Anya Caldwell Bean, FasterSkier was able to sit down with Sophie and Isabel to reflect on last year’s racing season and talk about their future plans.

FasterSkier: This past season you obviously found a lot of success on the international circuit. Was this something you knew you could do? Were you expecting to achieve the accomplishments you did?

Sophie Caldwell: My success and results from last season were certainly unexpected. I wasn’t expecting that at all going into the season. I had set some goals but none were super concrete. I don’t like to set results-based goals, but making the Olympics was a big goal, and I wasn’t sure if that was realistic or not. When we found out that we had qualified for the Olympics pretty early on, that took a lot of pressure off. Once that happened I was like ‘I’ve accomplished all my goals for the season. Let’s just have fun with it.’ It was a really exciting place to be and it was really fun.

I trained well last season, but a lot of it was being excited, being in a good place mentally, and having a good team. I think that’s what I owe a lot of the results to. I definitely wasn’t expecting to have a season like that.

Isabel Caldwell, Anya Caldwell Bean, and Sophie Caldwell (l-r) pose on the top of Mount Blackmore in Bozeman, Mt. during the sisters recent trip to visit Anya.
Isabel Caldwell, Anya Caldwell Bean, and Sophie Caldwell (l-r) pose on the top of Mount Blackmore in Bozeman, Mt. during the sisters recent trip to visit Anya.

FS: How was it adjusting to your first full season on the World Cup?

SC: It was easier adjusting than I thought it would be. That being said, it’s never easy being home away for that long. Living out of a duffle bag and going from hotel to hotel is exciting because you get to see a lot of new paces but sometimes you miss coming back to a real home.

FS: What was the most memorable moment of the season for you?

SC: Everything about the Olympics, especially the sprint day. It was memorable, but it’s also all a blur. Those few weeks were pretty incredible.

Having my family over for Christmas was pretty fun as well. That was a nice break because we had been bouncing from World Cup to World Cup each weekend so it was nice to tone things down and spend time with my family.

Some other highlights were Davos, because that was my first top ten. That was really cool because I could see that I could compete with the big girls. That gave me a boost of confidence. Also, Lahti was obviously a highlight when I shared the podium with Kikkan.

FS: Izzy, how was it visiting your sister during the season this year?

Isabel Caldwell: Christmas was wonderful! We went to Asiago (Italy) and watched the sprints, then we went to Ramsau (Austria) for Christmas, and then Davos (Switzerland) for the first stage of the Tour (de Ski). It was really fun to see Sophie race and spend time with her.

FS: How was your experience at your first Olympics? Was it overwhelming?

SC: It was definitely a little overwhelming going to the opening ceremonies. The fact that we got on TV was pretty cool and we heard from everyone at home. Because we were in the endurance village, which was full of Nordic skiers and biathletes, it was easier because most people you saw there were with you every weekend on the World Cup. You could definitely focus on racing. It was a tough place to get to and a tough place to leave, so it was pretty easy to calm down there.

After the sprint day I felt like I heard from just about every person I had ever met in my life. That was a little overwhelming. After the race I looked at my phone saw all the texts and emails. I was on my way to dinner and I just pulled out my phone, looked at it and turned it off. I took a deep breath and decided to take in the moment and pay attention to it after dinner.

FS: Did you feel any pressure at the Olympics?

SC: I didn’t feel any pressure at the Olympics because, as I said, my biggest goal was to qualify for the Olympics. Up to that point I had qualified for all the skate sprints and it was a skate sprint at the Olympics. At that point I made another goal to make the heats. After that it didn’t really matter what happened.

Of course, at the same time, there was a little more pressure and I was more nervous than I ever had been on the start line, but I wasn’t worried about results.

“As far as having the best finish, that was really cool, but I feel that on any given day it could have been any one of us. I’m proud, but having that below my name isn’t defining me or the team.” – Sophie Caldwell on having the best female finish of an American at the Olympics.

Sophie Caldwell (bib 9) heading for the finish in her Olympic quarterfinal heat in February, where she placed second to advance automatically to the semifinals.
Sophie Caldwell (bib 9) heading for the finish in her Olympic quarterfinal heat in February, where she placed second to advance automatically to the semifinals.

FS: Now that you’ve had time to reflect, how does it feel to have the best finish of any American female at the Olympics? 

SC: It is still sinking in. I was talking to Anya (Caldwell Bean) today about that and she was saying that it all happened so quickly and before the Olympics nobody thought it was that big of a deal and then you get there and it was a big deal. It was a huge deal, but I still think it’s sinking in.

As far as having the best finish, that was really cool, but I feel that on any given day it could have been any one of us. I’m proud, but having that below my name isn’t defining me or the team.

FS: How did Kikkan failing to advance from the quarterfinals affect your race?

SC: It was bittersweet because we were all broken-hearted when she didn’t make it past the quarterfinals. We had to regroup and focus on the race again. That was definitely some extra motivation. On any given day Kikkan could have gotten a gold medal there and that was some motivation to do it for Kikkan and do it for the team.

FS: Izzy, you watched the Olympics from Dartmouth? What was it like seeing your sister advance to the A-final?

IC: Yeah it was amazing. I woke up for every single one of her races this year. For the Olympics the whole Dartmouth team was watching on campus at the big televisions. Everyone was going wild. Meanwhile there was a big group text going on with about 20 family members all screaming their heads.

It was pretty fun because everyone on the Dartmouth team feels a special connection with Sophie, and also with Ida. There’s definitely a lot of pride coming from Dartmouth. Everyone gets pumped up when they do well, and everyone is watching every morning.

FS: Sophie, what are your general goals for next season?

SC: I’ll be racing in the full World Cup season again and I’d obviously like to be competing at World Championships and do well there. Right now it’s hard to tell who is going to be racing which race, I mostly just want to get more World Cup experience under my belt. Last season I felt like each weekend I was becoming more and more confident on the World Cup, but in no way am I a veteran or expert. That’s my big goal, to just keep enjoying the experience and keep learning.

I haven’t made any large adjustments in my training plan. I have been training a little more but I had some injuries (broken elbow and twisted ankle) but those seem to be fine now.

FS: What are you most looking forward to?

SC: I’m just excited to be back on the road with the team, but I’m definitely still enjoying my time at home right now. It’s hard to think about heading over to Europe just yet but it was a blast being over there with such a supportive group and hopefully the team will continue to grow and we’ll get some good results. I think it’s really cool to see the relays where we have started to pop out and do well. Hopefully, as a whole, the U.S. Team will continue it’s upward trend.

“Our dad in particular did a really good job of balancing being a dad and being a coach. Dad always came before coach, which was really helpful. I think it has just been a pressure free environment from day one. We all have different relationships with skiing but I think we all want to do it for the rest of our lives.” – Sophie Caldwell

FS: What are you up to these days, Izzy?

IC: I am officially done with ski racing. I think I want to become a teacher and I have a teaching internship at home for the year at the Burr and Burton Academy Mountain Campus. I’m very excited. It’s a semester program about science and sustainability.

Austin, Sophie, and Isabel Caldwell (l-r) pose during the Caldwell's visit Europe during Christmas to see Sophie race on the World Cup circuit. (Photo: Sophie Caldwell, http://sophiecaldwell.blogspot.com/2013/12/christmas-and-tour.html)
Austin, Sophie, and Isabel Caldwell (l-r) pose during the Caldwell’s visit Europe during Christmas to see Sophie race on the World Cup circuit. (Photo: Sophie Caldwell/sophiecaldwell.blogspot.com)

FS: Do you see yourself continuing to be involved in the sport in any capacity in the future? 

IC: I have always loved skiing and will continue to in the future, but I’m not that excited about racing anymore. I can live vicariously through Sophie (Laughs). I’ll probably hop in some races this year. I want to do Craftsbury Marathon for Torin (Tucker, a Dartmouth skier who passed away earlier this year) and then maybe do the Berkie if David Sinclair is doing it.

FS: Finally, you both come from a family that is well known in the nordic ski community. How has that influenced both of you? 

SC: It’s funny because when people ask us that question the follow-up is usually ‘that must be a lot of pressure.’ It really isn’t. I’m definitely proud to be a Caldwell but I’ve never felt any type of pressure. We grew up skiing but that was just because it was a lifestyle that my parents enjoyed. They did a really good job in raising us to learn to appreciate skiing, love it, and have a healthy relationship with it.

Our dad in particular did a really good job of balancing being a dad and being a coach. Dad always came before coach, which was really helpful. I think it has just been a pressure free environment from day one. We all have different relationships with skiing but I think we all want to do it for the rest of our lives.

Izzy and I were on a team together for two years at Dartmouth and three years at Stratton and we got along really well as teammates. It wasn’t a competitive thing. I was just saying to Anya this morning, that in college I said that if anyone is going to beat me I want it to be my sister. I think we are each other’s biggest fans. It was never competitive. A lot of that comes form having a healthy relationship with sports and competition from a young age.

IC: That pretty much sums it up!

Sophie currently skis for the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team and is a member of the USST A-Team. Follow her training, travels, and racing through her blog

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Lander Karath

Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.

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