Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Randall, Caldwell share the Finland podium in XC sprint

U.S. scores first-ever World Cup double podium

Express Staff Writer

     Two-time World Cup Nordic ski champion Kikkan Randall, 31, of Anchorage, Ak. made a statement Saturday, March 1 along with rookie U.S. Nordic Ski teammate Sophie Caldwell, 23, of Peru, Vt.

     The two placed first and third at the Lahti World Cup sprints in Finland, the first-ever double podium for U.S. cross-country ski women.

     It was a career-first podium for Caldwell, as well as the first time a woman other than Randall has landed on an individual World Cup podium in the modern era.

     The crucial win put Randall back on top of the World Cup sprint standings as she continues the fight for her third straight sprint title. She leads the points with a 482-446 margin over Germany’s Denise Herrmann, while Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg trails in third with 330 points.

     Randall and Caldwell lined up in the same semifinal, skiing to second and third and advancing to the final together.

     Randall and Caldwell sneaked by a big crash early on in the women’s final, which took out Olympic silver medalist Vesna Fabjan of Slovenia and Olympic gold medalist Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway. Caldwell pushed all the way to the end of the final, where she lunged and a photo finish confirmed her third spot on the historic podium.

     Simi Hamilton of Aspen, Co. took the top spot for the USA in the men’s sprints, qualifying for the quarterfinals and finishing 20th with teammate Andy Newell of Shaftsbury, Vt. in 28th.

     The course featured an icy base with a top layer of soft, sugary snow that proved to be difficult for many athletes and caused crashes throughout the day’s heats.

     The Lahti Ski Games continue Sunday with the men’s 15k and women’s 10k freestyle races.

     Randall said to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association News Bureau, “It was super fun to share the podium with my teammate today. I’m super impressed with her trajectory and I’m looking forward to pushing each other and the other girls to the next level.

     It's going to be a tough battle with two more classic sprints left. I am glad the good race feelings are back and I'm hoping to find the strong classic form I had at the beginning of the season. I knew I needed a big race today so it's great to have a chance to defend the globe now.”

     Added Caldwell, “It is a very special day for me. I cannot believe I won third place. I trained lunges with my coach and I think it was my best lunge ever. It is great feeling for me to be on the podium with Kikkan.”

     Matt Whitcomb, head Women’s Cross Country coach, said, “Today’s result was very special to the team. A double podium after what for some was a disappointing several weeks in Russia is what can happen to a buoyant team. Everyone has kept their heads up and eyes wide open, awake, always positive and ready to take the next hard swing. It feels good to hit one or two out of the park again.”

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