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Sophia Laukli Has A Strong Early Race in Beitostoelen

The first round of ‘pre-season’ races are complete and one American result stood out to me in Beitostoelen. Sophia Laukli finished 7th in a 10k freestyle in a field comprised of mostly Norwegians. She finished 1:24 behind the winner Therese Johaug, or around 6.4% back. That’s a big margin to be behind most winners, but maybe not so big a margin to be behind Johaug. Also, the result is interesting because Laukli is fairly young.

These early season races obviously should be taken with a grain of salt. The fields can be uneven, and many of the athletes are not necessarily in top form, or may be using them more as training as anything else. But this race happens to offer some convenient potential for comparisons because with Johaug in the race your percent back from her is pretty likely a decent preview of your percent back in a genuine World Cup.

The split times don’t show anything too surprising. Johaug pulled away early and the top 4 all maintained their positions fairly consistently through the race. Laukli started somewhat conservatively and moved up dramatically during the first half and then held on during the second lap. (Relative to Johaug, at least.)

Next, we can look at a lap pacing plot.

This tells roughly the same story, but maybe emphasizes a bit more that Laukli really did seem to accelerate through the first lap and then hold that speed quite well for the second lap. Laukli’s Instagram post on the race suggests that she caught a ride from Heidi Weng for a good chunk of the first lap (second lap, I was wrong) (and looked really good going through the 2.5k marker, frankly).

So what does 6.4% behind Johaug in an interval start race translate into, roughly? Well, this wouldn’t be cross-country ski racing if there weren’t a healthy bit of variability. In last years major international interval start races that would have put Laukli anywhere from 8th (in the WSC 10k freestyle, no less!), to 18th, 20th, 26th or 29th. That’s just based on where 6.4% back would have put her last season in the available interval start races. That WSC race seems like a bit of an outlier, so high-teens to low-20’s is probably the safe estimate.

One of the interesting things for American fans though, is how young Laukli is. If we take US women’s results in interval start major international races since 1992, tack on Laukli’s Beitostolen race (the assumption being that Johaug provides a decent yardstick), and plot their percent back versus age we get this:

That’s pretty solidly in the “exciting” quadrant of the graph. Zooming in a bit, we get this:

Again, this is all an enormous amount of analysis for one pre-Thanksgiving result. But what are pre-Thanksgiving races for if not for generating either irrational exuberance or premature panic? Isn’t that their whole purpose? 😉