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Catching up with US rocket rookie Sophia Laukli: Tour de Ski, Beijing Olympics, NCAA gold medals and big dreams

May 3, 2022

For Sophia Laukli, the 2021/22 season was a winter of firsts: it was her first full World Cup season, her first go at the FIS Tour de Ski stage race, her first Olympic Winter Games and her first NCAA victories.

Madshus caught up with the 21-year-old American Olympian on some of her best memories from the season, from posting her first World Cup top-5 finish on the hardest stage of the Tour de Ski stage race and the 2022 Olympics to the national collegiate championships (NCAA) with home course advantage.

Also: For most skiers, May 1st marks the start of the next season and summer is when great skiers are born. Check out Laukli’s favorite dryland workout, the specific training effects and why she likes it so much.

What were the biggest highlights of your season?
“Some highlights of the season were definitely the Tour de Ski and the final climb. I had always hoped to do the final climb one day so was really excited when I got period 2 starts in the World Cup,” Laukli says.

Never having competed in a stage race before, Laukli wasn’t sure what to expect from the Tour de Ski or the infamous last stage finishing with the infamous hill climb on Alpe Cermis in Val di Fiemme, Italy, aka the monster hill. But she assumed it would be brutal.

“There were a few tough races throughout the Tour, and I was very tired by the time the last race came, so I was maybe a little discouraged and nervous for the climb. At the same time, I had been looking forward to it for so long,and knew the course suited me, so I really wanted to do well there,” Laukli says.

She finished fifth, her top World Cup result to date.

“With how tired I felt in the classic race the day before, I was pretty surprised to be top 5, but very happy with how great it ended up going. It definitely motivates me for next year, so I really hope I get the chance to race the Tour again, I just have to work a bit more on my sprinting,” Laukli says.

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Photo by: Nordic Focus

The 2022 Olympics
With the covid pandemic still raging with new, more contagious and faster spreading virus variants, all World Cup races between the Tour de Ski and the 2022 Olympics in Beijing were cancelled. But Laukli’s strong results from the first part of the season had already earned her a spot on the US Olympic team.

“I knew making the team was possible, but also that it was not a guarantee by any means,” she says.

And although she had previously competed at the 2021 FIS World Championships, the level of competition as well as commotion, media attention, logistics, rules and restrictions both due to the pandemic at the Olympics was giant step up.

“The Olympics were a pretty crazy experience, and it felt rather surreal the whole time. It also ended up being a few very long weeks since I was only racing the 30-kilometer skate event on the very last day, but I really loved the courses and couldn’t wait to race on them,” she says.

And on race day, Laukli was on fire, pulling into an impressive 15th place in the howling wind and bitter cold temperature, despite making a wrong turn on her last lap.

“The race was really brutal and cold, but I was very happy with my result. I was bummed to mess up at the end and go the wrong way into the lap lane instead of the finish. I lost a couple places, but I certainly learned from that mistake. And I realize it could have been much more devastating if I was in medal position,” says Laukli, adding that her overall goal for the Olympics was to learn.

“For me, these games were mainly about the experience, and I didn’t have any expectations or pressures with results. With that being said, it made me very motivated to make the team in four years and have a bit more focus on working towards top results.”

Capping off with GOLD at home
But her season was hardly over with the Olympics. In March, Laukli moved on to the national collegiate championships in Utah, taking home two medals.

“I had a great time racing at home at our NCAA championships after the Olympics. I always love racing in the US and with my college team, and it was really cool to take both the team and individual national title,” says Laukli.

Skiers are born in the summer
While the 2022 season is barely in the books, Laukli is already knee deep into preparing for next winter - with the 2023 FIS World Championships as the overall season goal.

A substantial part of that job is laid down in the summer. Most elite skiers log between 80 to 100 hours of training per month, and variety is the key: Running, roller skiing and bounding, speed, strength and plyometrics provide a solid foundation for the race season.

Laukli is no exception, and is happy to share her favorite summer workouts.

What do you like the most about the dryland season, and what are your favorite workouts?
“I’m really looking forward to running workouts, especially some long sessions in the mountains. I would say my favorite workout is some long bounding intervals, or really anything running uphill. I’m planning to compete in some mountain running races as well, which I am excited about.

Uphill running and bounding workouts are a great way to increase both endurance and capacity (VO2max) as well as ski specific strength. Depending on the terrain and surface, these kinds of workouts also provide balance, coordination and even technique.

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Photo by: Nordic Focus