Sophia Laukli of Yarmouth placed fifth last winter in the 15-kilometer mass start race at the Nordic Junior World Championships in Germany – the highest finish ever for a Maine skier at the junior worlds. Photo courtesy of flyingpointroad.com

In a normal year, Sophia Laukli measures her improvement by the results in her cross-country skiing races.

“That’s what motivated me,” she said.

Sophia Laukli

This, of course, is anything but a normal year, with the coronavirus pandemic affecting sports at every level. So Laukli, a Yarmouth native, has found a different way to motivate herself. She’s gone to Norway, with her parents, to compete against some of the best cross-country skiers in the world.

“By coming to Norway, I’m not getting the best results in my life, but I’m skiing against people who are a lot faster than me,” Laukli said Friday in a call from Trondheim, Norway. “My goal is to get a really, really good racing experience, which will help me in the long run.”

Laukli, a 20-year-old sophomore at Middlebury College, is certainly getting noticed.

On Friday, she was named to the U.S. team for the U23 Nordic world championships, scheduled for Feb. 8-14 in Vuokatti, Finland. This comes a year after Laukli finished fifth in the 15-kilometer mass start race in the junior world championships. That was the highest finish ever for a Maine skier in the junior worlds.

“It’s pretty awesome,” said Laukli, who is in her first year on the U.S. Development team. “I’ve been lucky.”

Kate Barton, a Cape Elizabeth native who is now the head coach of the U.S. Development team, said it’s more than luck that has gotten Laukli this far.

“She skis technically very well, which is obviously very important in our sport,” said Barton, who was previously an assistant coach at Middlebury. “Obviously she has some pure love for the sport and is a determined and motivated athlete. I see that in her training and her racing.”

Now that Laukli is at the U23 level, Barton said it’s not going to be easy for her to repeat the success she had last year at the junior level. The competition is much stronger. And Laukli knows that.

“It’s definitely going to be pretty different from last year,” she said. “The competition in U23 is definitely a step up. The Europeans definitely get faster the older they get.”

But Barton said Laukli’s success won’t be measured by results.

“Honestly, it’s not super result-based for me,” said Barton. “I just want to see her go there with her usual confidence and go out there and race as well as she can. I think that could result in some really solid placings. Most of all, I think, especially in this unique year, we just haven’t had that many opportunities to measure ourselves. Just going there and racing our hearts out is the most important thing.”

That, of course, is why Laukli – the Varsity Maine Skier of the Year out of Yarmouth High in 2018 – went to Norway. She has competed in two FIS races in Norway, finishing 19th in a 10-kilometer freestyle and 29th in a 15K classical mass start, and will race in the Norwegian national championships starting Sunday in Trondheim.

Her father, Bjorn, grew up in Norway and she has dual citizenship. Laukli, who is taking online classes at Middlebury, is competing for the Konnerud club.

After the Norwegian championships, she’ll race for the U.S. in a World Cup race in Finland. “It’s definitely opened up some opportunities, being here,” she said.

Both Barton and Laukli said the pandemic has caused her to miss some of the usual benefits in her first year with the Development team. Barton said they have been unable to have any team meetings and, thus, Laukli hasn’t gotten exposure to athletes on the A and B skiing teams.

“That puts a damper on things,” Laukli said of not seeing her teammates. “Going to races solo also. And once you’re racing, there’s no one out on the course, too. I totally took that for granted. Having a team and going to races makes such a difference and makes it so much more fun, and training with a group. What’s getting me through this is telling myself it’s just temporary. It would be hard to do this all the time.”


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