Cross-Country Talk: Sophie Caldwell (USA)
Sophie Caldwell is a rising star of the U.S. Cross-Country Skiing. FIS Cross-Country News talked to Sophie about her breakthrough season, plans for the next winter and being part of the best team in the World.
Q: Let's start with a congratulations on such a great break through season. Let's jump back to November 2013 before the season started. At that point when thinking about the upcoming season did you think that you would be recording your first individual World Cup podium (only the second US female to do that), and become the first US female to ever make the top 6 at the Olympic Games in cross-country skiing?
SC: Going into this year, my biggest goal of the season was to qualify for the Olympic team. Beyond that, I didn't have many other results-based goals. I was looking forward to gaining more international experience and hoped that by the end of the season, I might be able to start qualifying pretty consistently for sprints. I think some of my "long-shot" goals were a World Cup top 10, a distance race in the top 30, and to be able to ski on a relay team (sprint or distance) at some point in the season. I was very surprised to have reached all my goals by the end of January, but in a way it kind of took some pressure off and I figured, the sky is the limit!
Q: The Caldwell name is a familiar name in the US cross-country circles. But who is Sophie Caldwell? Did you always love cross-country skiing?
SC: I learned to ski and walk simultaneously because I come from a family of skiers, but growing up I did all kinds of sports. I've always enjoyed cross-country skiing, but there were definitely times in my life when other hobbies interested me more than skiing did. I loved soccer and went through a period where being the next Mia Hamm was more appealing to me than being a ski racer. There were also periods in college when I thought I would head straight into the real world after graduation and my ski career would end at the college level. So I guess my answer would be that I've always loved skiing, but I was always balancing it with a lot of other interests and I think that's probably part of the reason why I still love it so much today and can now pursue it full time.
Q: Who were your skiing idols growing up?
SC: The two names that pop into my head are Andy Newell and Kikkan Randall. It's funny because I used to idolize those two (and still do), but now I also consider them both good friends and teammates. Andy grew up close to where I grew up and we both attended Stratton Mountain School. I remember being a little girl and going to visit my dad at work when Andy's class was in high school and thinking they were all the coolest people in the world. Kikkan has really paved the way for US women's skiing and that's something I've always admired. Even though we're teammates and friends now, she's been an extremely helpful leader for every girl on our team and she is still one of my biggest idols today. After I got my first podium in Lahti, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, so I asked Kikkan if I could just follow her around everywhere. She said of course, so I latched on and didn't let her leave my sight!
Q: I believe you chose to compete at the University level before pursuing skiing full time. In the US there is lot's of debate about whether to enter the NCAA programs to focus on skiing 100%
SC: The debate about whether to go to University or not is something that's always been a heated topic in the US and to be honest, I find it a little ridiculous. I chose to go to University before pursuing skiing full time, but I'm not going to preach that that is the right decision for every other kid in the country, because it's not. I think its different for each person and there's no right or wrong decision, but going to school was a decision I made and I believe it was right for me. Some people are ready to jump into full-time training right after high school and I was not. Getting my college degree, having a true college experience, and skiing were all things that were important to me, so going to college right after high school seemed like the logical choice. I was still able to ski at the NCAA level and by the time I graduated, I was ready and excited to pursue skiing full-time. It also took away the looming pressure of an education because now it's something I can always fall back on. I feel like I'm skiing now because it's what I want to be doing whereas if I hadn't gone to school, sometimes I might feel like skiing was what I had to be doing. Like I said before, I think attending University was the best decision for me, but there are so many different paths and a lot of my teammates are perfect examples of other paths taken that have proven to be extremely successful for them.
Q: Looking ahead to next season. Where do you start your goals list after such a great year?
SC: I had a great season that exceeded my expectations in every way, but there is always room for improvement. I want to continue to work on my sprinting and specifically try to improve my classic sprinting. By the end of the season, I could confidently qualify in skate sprints and felt comfortable skiing through the heats. I'd like to feel that same level of confidence in classic sprinting. I'd also really like to improve my distance skiing this year and I think that will help with sprinting, particularly in races where I make it into the semi final or final. My classic distance skiing made some jumps last year and I'm still working on learning how to distance skate!
Q: You are a part of a team that is skiing at a level never seen in the history of women's skiing in the US. You aren't the youngest on the team, Jessie Diggins is younger, but you can be considered to be the "new one". How has the experience been with World Cup veterans like Kikkan Randall, Holly Brooks and Liz Stephen and then also World Cup medalists Sadie Bjornsen and Jessie Diggins?
SC: I know people are probably getting sick of hearing this, but I really have the best team in the World. I genuinely look up to each woman on our team and I've learned so much from them the past couple years. We get to know each other pretty well after spending four months straight on the road together in Europe and still come out being some of each other's biggest fans. Kik, Liz, and Holly have been so generous in showing the younger skiers the ropes. I look to them for advice all the time and they are always more than willing to help out. Ida Sargent and I have been skiing with each other in Vermont for as long as I can remember. We also attended Dartmouth together, so I think we act as each other's "taste of home" when we need it. Jessie and I are on the same club team (SMS T2) and grew up going to World Juniors together and have become very close. We're the two youngest women on the team and a lot of the little things are still very exciting to us. It's pretty crazy that we've both won World Cup medals now, so we're there to remind each other that yes, this is real life and we are living the dream. Then Sadie, Sodie, whatever you want to call it - we're kind of like two peas in a pod and she's my sister on the road.
Q: April is often the month with cross-country athletes take a break from skiing. Did you getaway to any tropical locations?
SC: I've been home in Vermont for almost all of April. After such a long season, being home was what I was looking forward to the most. On Saturday I head to South Carolina with some friends for a week at the beach, so that will be my tropical vacation!
Q: When does your training for the 2014-15 season get started?
SC: I guess it starts when I get back! Our first US Ski Team camp will be in Bend on May 19th, but I'll start getting back into some training when I return from vacation.