These Vermont women are leading the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team. Here’s why they’re our 2019 Vermont Sports Athletes of the Year.
Sophie Caldwell and Jessie Diggins, Peru & Stratton, VT
When Jessie Diggins and then-teammate Kikkan Randall won an Olympic gold medal in the women’s sprint free in PyeongChang, it was far from a fluke. The pair may have been the anchors of the U.S. Women’s Cross Country Ski Team, but it was a team with deep talent, and much of that talent was rooted in Vermont. So much, in fact, that Diggins now calls southern Vermont home, owns a condo here and trains here all summer with fellow team members (many part of the Stratton Mountain School T2 Elite Team), who are stars in their own rights, including Sophie Caldwell of Peru and Julia Kern, now at Dartmouth.
When Randall, who has been battling cancer, retired many wondered how the women’s team would fare.
After winning the gold and then publishing a book, Diggins was back at it last season and going into the 2019/20 season, is looking even stronger.
In December 2019, she earned three World Cup podiums: a bronze in the women’s 10k at Davos and two silvers at Lillehammer, in the skiathlon and the 4x5k relay. “I haven’t historically had great races [in Davos] because I take my time working into the season,” Diggins, who grew up in Minnesota, told the Minneaplois Star Tribune. “And this course is extremely difficult to pace. But this year, one of my goals was to come into the season a little closer to form than in the past, and it’s been awesome to feel like I’m in great shape while still working my way into top race form.”
And she’s had good company. Sophie Caldwell, daughter of former SMS T2 coach and Olympian Sverre Caldwell and his ski racing wife Lilly, and granddaughter of Olympian John Caldwell, was with Diggins on the podium as part of the third place 4×5 relay team in Lillehammer. She also made the podium in Davos, where she took third—in a photo finish it appeared she tied for second—in the sprint final and then, on Dec. 21, 2019, placed fourth in the sprint final at the next World Cup in Planica, Slovenia. With the season just kicking off, she stands to match or best her 2018/19 season where she earned three World Cup podiums.
For Caldwell, 2019 marked another big accomplishment: she married long-time partner and U.S. Ski Team teammate Simi Hamiltion, a three-time Olympian, who grew up in Aspen (his grandfather ran Aspen Mountain for three decades) and went to Middlebury College. Both her parents, ardent skiers, walked her down the aisle under the turning leaves in Peru, Vt., before her mother, who had been battling cancer, passed away in November.
Going into this season, Caldwell and Diggins will have an even stronger stable of teammates as Julia Kern and Sadie Bjornsen have also been posting strong finishes. The U.S. Women’s Cross Country dream team is going to be strong as ever.