SMS alums make their mark in Sochi
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Two members of Stratton Mountain School's Elite T2 Team have made their mark at this year's Olympic Games in Russia.
Early last week, Sophie Caldwell made history by finishing in 6th place in the women's cross-country sprint final at the Olympics with a time of 2:47. 75 - the best U.S. finish ever by a female athlete in the event.
"That was unexpected. I wasn't sure what the best results were beforehand," said Caldwell - who is from Peru, Vt. - in an interview on Monday.
"My teammate Jessie Diggins got eighth in the skiathlon. That was a new record for women and then my sixth was another one. It feels pretty cool to hold on to that I think, at the moment, even though I'm hoping it can be broken [by my teammates] still."
Caldwell was the only American to make it past the quarterfinals after teammates Kikkan Randall -- who was considered a gold medal contender -- Ida Sargent and Diggins were unable to move on. Caldwell then barely lost a photo finish to Norway's Ingvild Flug stad Oestberg, putting her into the six person final.
Despite her last place finish, Caldwell said that she was pleased with the way she performed.
"I was just really happy and excited to be in the final in the first place and even though I got a fair amount of questions like ‘Were you disappointed?' I really wasn't disappointed at all because that time is my best personal result ever and I was just thrilled to find myself in the finals at the Olympics," Caldwell said.
In her first event of the Olympics, Diggins finished in 8th place in the Ladies' Skiathlon 7. 5km Classic + 7. 5km Free. While her finish was a new record for U.S. female athletes, Diggins indicated that she was not focused on the end result.
"When I finished the skiathalon I didn't actually know what place I came in, and I wasn't concerned with what records or history that place might have been. I was just so happy to officially be an Olympian and to have met my goals and personal definition of success at the games," Diggins said. "For me, success was defined by crossing the finish line and knowing that in the race, months before the race and years leading up to the Olympics I did the best I could and gave everything I had."
Diggins claimed 8th place by passing 17 racers in the second part of the race and finishing with a time of 40:05.5. Norway's Marit Bjoergen took home the gold, finishing with a time of 38:33.6.
The finish is something she believes will only help her going forward.
"It's a good confidence booster for sure," said Diggins via email. "It helps me feel like I belong at this level, racing on the World's biggest stage with these extremely talented racers from all around the world."
Caldwell expressed similar sentiments about her finish.
"I think confidence is a huge factor in this sport and I think people often underestimate the mental component of skiing," she said. "Coming into this year I think one of the biggest game changers for me is just the boost in confidence and feeling like I do belong here."
Coming into the Olympics, Caldwell said she made it a goal to soak up as much of the experience as possible and not worry about the results - something she hoped would help when it came time to compete.
"I know I race the fastest when I'm enjoying myself and having fun and rather than sitting in my room all day and worrying about the races, I thought [it would be better] if I got out and tried to explore a little, go to opening ceremonies and soak up the experience as much as possible," Caldwell said.
"So, that's kind of been the goal for this experience and so far it seems to be working well."
Caldwell said that having her teammates around - and especially some of her T2 teammates - has helped her a lot in the Olympics.
"It's been huge having teammates here. About half of them have been to the Olympics before and so they can give some good advice about how to do it and how to stay calm," she said. "Andy (Newell) has just this very calm and composed manner. And he doesn't have to say much, but it just keeps me calm. This is Jesse's first Olympics too and so we've been doing a lot of first timer things together. We (she and Diggins) definitely rely on each other as teammates and a lot of these guys are my best friends and so it's nice to have a second family on the road with you."
The bond between the team is something that Diggins indicated has not only been helpful to her, but some of the other members of the team as well.
"Our team is really good at sticking together and supporting each other, and that helps us all, especially in high pressure situations like the Olympics," she said.
For both Caldwell and Diggins the experience is one that still seems unbelievable. It is something that both women have dreamt about for a long time. For Caldwell, it is a lifelong goal that has finally been realized - even though she said she sometimes has a hard time believing it.
"It's been pretty mind blowing. It's still sinking in," she said. "Every once in a while I need to sit down and take a deep breath and remind myself that I've been at the Olympics. It's been an amazing experience and exceeded any expectations I had and it's definitely still sinking in."
Diggins has thought about being an Olympian since she was in elementary school and so far she said the experience has been everything she thought it would be.
"It's been so exciting, being in my first Olympics. The atmosphere here is incredible, and it's also so fun to be racing in the same city as every other Winter sport," said Diggins. "I think the Opening Ceremony was the coolest thing for me, because it was such a rush, walking into the stadium with all the lights and noise of the crowd, and that's when it really started to sink in that I was here at the Olympics with my team that we'd made it."
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