Sophie Caldwell (Peru, Vt.) became only the second American to finish on the podium in the season-long World Cup sprint standings, finishing third overall after a sixth-place finish in season's final sprint in Falun, Sweden, Friday.
“Two years ago I set a two-year goal of being in the top three in the sprint World Cup,” said Caldwell. “At the time, I wasn’t sure I wanted to set a goal that big. But it’s really a dream come true to accomplish it. I’m so proud to be a part of this team where on any given day there could be a handful of people on the podium and to have a staff that works so incredibly hard for us.”
Sweden dominated the women’s races Friday with Hanna Falk taking the win over teammate Jonna Sundling. Norway’s Marit Bjoergen was third. Jessie Diggins (Afton, Minn.) was seventh with Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, Wash.) ninth and Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, Alaska) 14th.
The men’s win went to Norway’s Johannes Høsflot Klæbo who took the sprint season globe and increased his stranglehold on the overall. Simi Hamilton (Aspen, Colo.) led the U.S. men in 14th.
In the women’s quarterfinal heats, Bjornsen opened it up finishing second in the first heat. In heat three, Diggins went up against Randall, who was skiing in the final sprint race of her career, and advanced. Randall, however, made a strong lunge at the finish but just missed finishing second and was not quite fast enough for a lucky loser spot. In heat four, Caldwell skied a smart race, waiting for her time and passing on the final small climb and sprinting up to the lead in the final hundred meters to win and move on to semifinals.
In the semifinals opening heat, Diggins and Bjornsen were paired together. Both battled heavy traffic through most of the heat as the field only broke up in the final few hundred meters. Bjornsen was able to work to the front by midway but Diggins was boxed in and unable to thread her way through the field. As the pack broke up coming into the stadium, Bjornsen dropped back and Diggins moved up with a powerful sprint, narrowly missing second with Sweden’s Hanna Falk taking the win. In heat 2, Norway’s Marit
Bjoergen set a much faster pace to take the win with Caldwell third and grabbing a lucky loser spot.
In the finals, Caldwell was on tails of Falk and Sundling, but eventually, she dropped back and finished sixth.
"I felt great today, and my skis were running fast thanks to our awesome team," said Diggins. "I got to lay down a solid qualifier and in my quarterfinal I got to just hammer away. My semifinal, I got stuck behind people as the course was only two skiers wide on the uphills and unfortunately, we were basically walking out there, which meant there wasn’t going to be a lucky loser time from our heat. I kept looking for ways to get around but was blocked in until the course opened up in the final 800 meters, but unfortunately it was too late for me to be able to make any solid moves."
Bjornsen continued her solid season with another top 10. "It was a beautiful day for sprint racing here in Falun," she said. "I have been feeling strong lately, so I was really happy to finish fourth in the qualifier! I felt super strong climbing all day today, which is always a good sign for me, and something I have started to feel this year. Sprint racing is always hit or miss for me, because I am not one for tactics, so it works out best when we just go super fast from point A to point B. Fortunately, I had a really strong quarter final, so we skied really hard from the start, and I was able to use my good feelings to qualify into the semi finals."
Like Diggins, Bjornsen was challenged by the narrow course and heavy traffic. "The semi finals turned into a tactical war, and I was feeling good coming into the final part of the course, but unfortunately got bobbled a bit on the final descent, and struggled to pick up the killer sling shot from there and then things ended up turning into a drag race sprint at the end, which didn't work out ideal for me. I certainly left the last sprint of the season dreaming of more, but feeling really confident in my skiing. I am excited to work on some more specific things this summer."
In the three-day mini stage race, athletes only receive half the normal World Cup points (50 for the win) with a bonus of 200 World Cup points to the series winner on Sunday. Diggins remained third in the overall standings with two events remaining, gaining a bit of ground on both leader Heidi Weng and second place Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg.
Caldwell put together an impressive sprint season, with three podiums including a win in Seefeld, Austria - site of the 2019 World Championships. She was in the top 10 in every sprint except Drammen, Norway a week ago.
"It was amazing to see Sophie step up to the third step in the sprint overall today," said Bjornsen. "I am darn proud of the step she made this year and constantly inspired by really strong teammates."
Action now shifts to classic distance racing on Saturday with a 15k race for the men and 10k for the women.
Women’s World Cup sprint standings
Men’s World Cup Sprint standings