Note: This is an initial post about American Sophie Caldwell’s World Cup victory on Tuesday at the Tour de Ski in Obertsdorf, Germany. Stay tuned for more in-depth reports about the women’s and men’s classic sprints.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Caldwell became the third U.S. woman to win a World Cup. Alison Kiesel (formerly Owen-Spencer) won the inaugural women’s World Cup event in December 1978 at Mount Telemark in Wisconsin.
OBERSTDORF, Germany — Sophie Caldwell saw the opportunity in the final roller of a hill in the women’s 1.2-kilometer classic sprint final on Tuesday and she seized it, overtaking the last Norwegian in her sights and holding off Heidi Weng by one-tenth of a second to win Stage 4 of the Tour de Ski.
“It feels really good,” Caldwell, a 25-year-old member of the U.S. Ski Team, told FasterSkier in an in-person interview after the race. “It has been a while since I have been on the podium and that is the first sprint I have ever won. So I am psyched, I never thought it would come in a classic sprint so that was a pleasant surprise.”
A native of Peru, Vt., and daughter of the Stratton Mountain School’s nordic director Sverre Caldwell, Caldwell has been on the World Cup podium once before — in a freestyle sprint in March 2014 in Lahti, Finland. There, she placed third after teammate Kikkan Randall, who won, and Slovenia’s Katja Visnar in second. Two U.S. women had never before shared a World Cup podium.
On Tuesday, Caldwell continued to make U.S. history, becoming the third American woman, after Randall and Alison Kiesel, to win a World Cup race. Caldwell is also the first U.S. woman to win a World Cup classic sprint.
No stranger to sprint finals, she had reached the finals (thus placing in the top six) in two of the last three sprints (all of which were freestyle) before Tuesday. The only one she missed, she did so by just one place in seventh in Toblach, Italy. She has now placed in the top seven in four consecutive sprints.
“I knew I had some really good skis today and my strengths are usually tricky downhills because I didn’t like to snowplow and I don’t get freaked out by them,” Caldwell said of Tuesday’s classic sprint.
“I was probably the last person who woke up this morning and thought this would happen,” she told FIS media coordinator Jeff Ellis (Randall’s husband) in a post-race interview. “I’m thrilled.”
“We know Sophie is among the best downhill skiers in the world,” U.S. women’s coach Matt Whitcomb said. “These conditions today are like, growing up in New England, skiing through slob it’s no big deal. She got to the tops of climbs and attacked over them rather than backing off, and that was a big difference-maker today. But what really stood out was that she was climbing with the best of the world today.”
Caldwell stayed on her feet all day, even in the final when Sweden’s Ida Ingemarsdotter came close to nicked her skis. Ingemarsdotter began to snowplow on a washed-out descent, which caused problems in several heats — including those of Caldwell’s U.S. teammates Ida Sargent and Jessie Diggins. In the final, Caldwell scooted around the snowplowing Ingemarsdotter and moved into third behind Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Østberg — the overall Tour de Ski leader — and Weng. She proceeded to pick both Norwegians off to take the win.
Earlier in the day, Sargent avoided a crash in the first women’s quarterfinal to place third in that heat. But finishing 10.36 seconds behind Østberg as the winner of that quarterfinal, Sargent did not advance to the semifinals.
Neither did Diggins, who got hung up in a snowplow snafu by Sweden’s Hanna Falk on that same downhill in the fourth quarterfinal. The back of Falk’s skis caught Diggins and both went down. Diggins finished fifth in that heat, 26.22 seconds behind Norway’s Therese Johaug, who won that quarterfinal. Falk crossed the line 50 seconds back in sixth.
At the end of the day, Sargent placed 15th and Diggins 21st. Also for the U.S., Rosie Brennan again narrowly missed qualifying in 35th, Sadie Bjornsen did not make the quarterfinals in 44th, along with Liz Stephen in 49th, and Caitlin Gregg in 53rd.
In terms of overall Tour standings after four of eight stages, Diggins ranks 10th (+4:33.4), Bjornsen slipped out of the top 10 to 13th (+4:53.7), Caldwell is up to 14th (+5:23.7), Stephen is 25th (+6:22.1), Caitlin Gregg 39th (+8:12.6), Brennan 42nd (+8:33.1), and Sargent 45th (+8:47.3).
Racing continues in Obertsdorf on Wednesday with the women’s 10 k classic mass start and men’s 15 k classic mass start.
“[I] plan on racing tomorrow as long as … I have had a bit of a race hack, so as long as that doesn’t get any worse,” Caldwell said.
(Her boyfriend Simi Hamilton had to skip Tuesday’s sprint and thus withdraw from the Tour due to illness.)
“I plan on racing tomorrow and then probably dropping out,” she continued. “There is a small chance I would do the 5 k in Toblach [Italy on Friday], but kind of taking it a day at a time. I won’t go past Toblach.”
— JoJo Baldus, Harald Zimmer and Alex Kochon contributed reporting