Sophie Caldwell credits teammates for success
Caldwell is a name synonymous with cross-country skiing. And while 26-year-old Sophie Caldwell often gets grouped into her family — which consists of Olympians, world-class coaches and World Cup champions — fans are starting to get to know the strong, smart and level-headed Sophie. Her quiet, determined attitude is evident in every part of her life, from attending an Ivy League college to winning her first World Cup this season in Oberstdorf, Germany. But what she really cares about is her team and she credits that team mentality to all that she is today.
“I come from a big cross-country skiing family,” Caldwell said modestly about her famous pedigree. “I learned how to ski at about the same time I learned how to walk.”
But she didn’t grow up in a pressure-filled environment. Instead, she was encouraged to have fun with the sport, not just race.
“I think they wanted me to have the opportunity to fall in love with the sport like they had, whether that meant recreationally or racing.”
That attitude stuck with her throughout childhood and adolescence. She started playing soccer as a kid and continued when she began attending Stratton Mountain School in seventh grade. It wasn’t until about halfway through high school that she decided cross-country was the sport she would focus on.
“I wanted to be the next Mia Hamm and would read her biography every night before bed,” Caldwell laughed. “When I was quite a bit younger, I also gave gymnastics and ballet a go, but I think I preferred sports that were outdoors.”
The life of a cross-country skier looks a little different than that of a typical elite skiing and snowboarding athlete. Many Nordic sport athletes come to the sport later in life and attend college before pursuing it professionally. Caldwell chose Dartmouth as her path to the World Cup.
“I truly believe that the decision to ski in college or not is totally dependent on each individual’s needs,” said Caldwell. “I enjoyed the challenge of balancing school, skiing and a social life, and I think when I graduated college, I was finally in a place where I was ready to pursue skiing full time. It was important for me to experience it all and recognize that life is bigger than skiing.”
It was a perfect path for Caldwell. She graduated Dartmouth in 2012 and kicked off her World Cup career that season, snagging a few top 15 finishes. The next season, she was sneaking into the top 10 before stepping on her first podium in 2014. Last season, she took home her first ever World Cup win in the Tour de Ski.
So who influenced her successful career as a World Cup cross-country skier? Caldwell credits many of the groundbreakers in the sport, such as her childhood neighbor and good family friend Bill Koch. But she also credits her teammates Andy Newell and Kikkan Randall.
“Andy has been skiing for a long time and has always been someone I looked up to as a sprinter,” said Randall. “And Kikkan — I can’t say enough about what she’s done for women’s skiing.”
But it’s not only the standard cross-country heroes that influence Caldwell. There have been myriad articles written and conversations held about the camaraderie of the current U.S. Cross Country Ski Team. In every quote throughout the successful 2015-16 season, each teammate seemed to thank each other, their coaches and their techs. Caldwell addressed it in her signature “good-head-on-her-shoulders” way.
“I truly believe I have the best teammates in the world, but it’s not easy,” said Caldwell. “It’s something we’re constantly working at because we know if we’re going to be the best in the world, we need to be the best in the world together.”
Head Women’s Coach Matt Whitcomb confirmed Sophie’s unequivocal devotion to her team.
“Sophie is the type of athlete a lifetime coach will be lucky to come across even a handful of times,” said Whitcomb. “She puts her teammates before herself, and it happens naturally. A lot of people have to work very hard to be a good teammate, but it’s not a stretch for Sophie. She welcomes the success of her female teammates rather than feeling threatened by it, and in this way is a role model not just for young kids, but for professional athletes as well.”
While Caldwell is expected to have more great results this season and has potential to medal in the 2018 Olympics, her success hasn’t changed her personality. She’s still the same girl who loved bouncing between sports and she remains well-rounded.
“I think the biggest battle for skiers is finding the right balance in life that makes us happy, while also making us the best skier we can be,” said Caldwell. “I know I’m usually skiing the fastest when I’m happiest.”
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