GAELLIVARE, Sweden (Nov. 21, 2015) Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) raced her way to a win in a 1.2k classic sprint race Saturday while Sophie Caldwell (Peru, VT) took second on the tough tracks of Hellner Stadium in Gaellivare. For the men, Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov was the overall winner finishing just ahead of Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) who earned a second place finish in the 1.4k classic sprint.
The FIS races were a tuneup for the World Cup opener in Finland next week. The team will return to the Hellner Stadium Sunday for 10k and 15k freestyle events.
High above the Arctic Circle, Jessie Diggins led a strong showing by the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team in a tuneup race for next weekend's World Cup opener. (Stefan Nieminen)
Sophie Caldwell (left) and Jessie Diggins charge hard during a classic sprint in Gaellivare. (U.S. Ski Team)
I was really happy with today’s race! The techs and coaches did a great job and I’m really happy with how well everything worked out - the testing, the race prep, the training leading into today’s race. I feel like my body is in a good place and I’m super excited to start the World Cup races next weekend in Kuusamo!
I was happy with the race today and it was especially fun to share the podium with Jessie. Even though it was a small field, I wanted to give my qualifier the same effort I would on the World Cup and I was really happy with how it went. I felt that I skied it well and that I had great skis. The heats were fun and each one got progressively faster and harder. I came away knowing what my strengths are and where I still have room to improve and that was exactly what I wanted from a warm up race for the World Cup.
I'm pretty stoked with the way things went today for the first sprint race of the season. It's always fun to start the season with a podium but more importantly I'm happy with the way my speed and fitness felt. It's always a little unknown how your body will respond to the first hard race on snow and things felt great. I'm definitely already at a higher level of speed and fitness than I was at any point last season so I'm fired up to get back on the World Cup.
Andy Newell prepares for his qualifying start in the opening FIS sprint in Sweden.
Matt Whitcomb, Head Women's Coach
We are very happy with our start to the season. Week one is always a wildcard with some athletes feeling great and others still trying to adjust. To take three of six podiums is fun regardless of the race, and to do it with some strong World Cup skiers here – especially in the men’s field, gives us confidence. The important thing is that we had three skiers still skiing exceptionally well in the final. Today was the best classic sprint result we’ve ever seen out of Jessie, so Kuusamo will be exciting. I have a lot of confidence in the way she is skiing right now, and to see her hit full-gas in the finish stretch was awesome. For Andy, he gave up a gap to Ustiugov out of the start and up the first climb, but was quickly tracking him down on the final climb and chased his tails into the finish. Today is a big boost for the team."
While today wasn’t the most difficult day to make good skis, sometimes these days are the most important to make the great ones. Our skis were awesome, which is exciting because we have four new faces on our service staff for Period 1 of the World Cup. The service team worked very well today, even though we have a very interesting combination of heavy French and Estonian accents!