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U.S.’ Sophie Caldwell fifth in World Cup cross-country sprint final

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After finishing on the sprint podium once already this season, U.S. cross-country skier Sophie Caldwell looked well-positioned to notch another top three finish in Dresden, Germany.

After qualifying with the second-best time, Caldwell was surrounded by Swedes on the leaderboard. Caldwell sat just .49 hundredths of a second behind the leader, Sweden’s Hanna Falk, and .80 hundredths ahead of Falk’s countrywoman, Stina Nilsson. Behind Nilsson in fourth was Sweden’s Evelina Settlin.

In a stacked quarterfinal heat, Caldwell, Falk and Settlin were forced to battle it out to advance to the semifinals. Caldwell claimed her spot, finishing second in the heat, but Settlin and Falk, with third and fourth place finishes respectively, were forced to sweat it out. But what may have been a strategy to save their legs for the final, Falk and Settlin did eventually earn the two lucky loser spots to advance to the semis.

Racing in the first semifinal heat, Caldwell finished her first lap by bringing up the rear. But what a difference one more trip around the course can make. Caldwell stuck to her race plan, ultimately finishing second behind Nilsson.

In the second lap of the final, Caldwell attempted to make her move on the outside, but was passed on the turn for home on the inside. Unable to catch the lead pack, and running out of snow before the finish, Caldwell crossed the line in fifth. A trio of Swedes, Nilsson, Maja Dahlqvist and Jonna Sundling raced to the top three spots in the final. Full results are here.

Caldwell’s sprint podium finish this year came during the Tour de Ski, when she raced into the two spot at Val Muestair. The U.S.’ Jessie Diggins joined Caldwell on that same podium in third. Diggins, who finished sixth overall in Tour de Ski last week did not race in the sprint in Dresden.

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Photo finish: Sophie Caldwell ties for first U.S. World Cup XC win of season

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Sophie Caldwell will take the momentum of a photo-finish World Cup shared win into the Olympics, where she and a deep women’s team look to get U.S. cross-country skiing on the podium for the first time since 1976.

The 27-year-old Caldwell and Swiss Laurien van der Graaff couldn’t be separated after several minutes reviewing their ski-for-ski tie in Austria on Saturday.

“At first I was second in the finish, and then 10 minutes later I learn that I have won the race in a tie with Laurien,” Caldwell said, according to the International Ski Federation.

Caldwell, who is going to her second Olympics, notched the first U.S. World Cup win of the season. She and Jessie Diggins have combined to win five World Cup races over the last three seasons.

Caldwell’s win Saturday came in the freestyle sprint. The Olympic sprint will be contest in the classic skiing format, hurting the U.S. chances to make the podium.

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MORE: U.S. Olympic team largest in Winter Games history

Jessie Diggins is second U.S. skier to win Tour de Ski stage this week

Jessie Diggins
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Sochi Olympians Jessie Diggins and Sophie Caldwell each won Tour de Ski stages this week, becoming the third and fourth U.S. women to earn World Cup cross-country skiing victories.

Diggins, the World 10km freestyle silver medalist, took a 5km freestyle race in Toblach, Italy, on Friday.

Caldwell prevailed in a 1.2km classic sprint in Oberstdorf, Germany, on Tuesday.

The only other U.S. women to win World Cup races were Alison Owen-Spencer in 1978 and four-time Olympian Kikkan Randall, who has 14 World Cup wins, according to the U.S. Ski Team. (Whether Owen-Spencer’s victory was a World Cup race is disputed)

Cross-country skiing has been on the Olympic program since 1924 for men and 1952 for women. Bill Koch is the only American with an Olympic medal, silver from the 30km in 1976.

MORE CROSS-COUNTRY: Four-time U.S. Olympian to miss season