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Sophia Laukli glad to be back at GTWS but admits Mont-Blanc Marathon chances a “mystery”

Jonathan Turner
News Director
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Defending champion Sophia Luakli makes a welcome return to the Golden Trail World Series this weekend at the Mont-Blanc Marathon.

Until last year’s GTWS exploits, the 24-year-old was best known for her achievements in cross country skiing – competing at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games for the USA.

But last season saw her win the Mont-Blanc Marathon in dominant style en route to topping the overall standings alongside Judith Wyder and taking the title by virtue of three race wins to two. Wyder herself is also back in action in Chamonix.

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‘I’m happy to be here’

It’s been a frustrating start to the 2024 campaign for Luakli as she looked to transition back after the ski season.

She flew out to the season-opening Kobe Trail in Japan but was unable to take part due to a knee problem – though in a classy gesture she instead helped out at the aid stations.

But speaking to the GTWS’ Mickaël Mussard, she’s looking forward to making her comeback in Sunday’s race – though she admits it’s a bit of a voyage into the unknown in terms of her chances of winning.

She finished 12 minutes ahead of her nearest rival 12 months ago in a time of 4:12:39 but said of her hopes this time around: “I’m doing much better than at the beginning of the season. I’m happy to be able to run again… But there’s a difference between being able to run and being in shape… Personally, I feel like I’m somewhere in between right now.”

Explaining what has kept her on the sidelines, she said: “I had a knee issue at the beginning of the season. Initially, I just thought it was a problem related to a too-quick transition from my ski season to running… But it turns out I had a big bike crash during the “running camp” with Salomon, and that’s what caused my pain. I ended up getting an MRI to be sure, and even though nothing was broken, it confirmed that it came from the crash. I had a big inflammation that needed treatment, and it took longer than expected. It took until two and a half weeks ago to start running and training again.

Sophia Luakli trains in Japan before Golden Trail World Series opener race 2024 Photo copyright: Colin Olivero | Golden Trail World Series
Sophia Luakli trains in Japan before her intended GTWS opener [Photo copyright: Colin Olivero | Golden Trail World Series]

“It’s a bit crazy to want to run a marathon with only three weeks of training. But I still managed to train on roller skis, so I’m not starting from scratch. Despite that, there’s a difference between running a 25-kilometer Golden Trail Series race and the Mont Blanc Marathon, which requires high intensity over a long distance. But the important thing for me is to be able to compete again, so I’m happy to be here.”

‘I hope to finish on the podium’

And in terms of managing expectations for Sunday, she added: “I know I have to be patient and not risk my entire season on this race. I also know the level will be very high, so it’s hard to say. Last year, the Mont-Blanc Marathon was a real mystery because I had never run such a long distance.

This year, it will also be a mystery because I’m worried about my fitness.

“Despite everything, I hope to finish on the podium; I don’t know if it’s realistic, but that’s what motivates me. Beyond the top five, I think I would be a bit disappointed, even if it wouldn’t be so bad.”

Sophia Laukli wins Marathon du Mont-Blanc 2023 [Photo copyright: David Gonthier | Golden Trail World Series]
Sophia Luakli was the impressive winner in 2023 [Photo copyright: David Gonthier | Golden Trail World Series]

In order to qualify for the Grand Final in Switzerland she’ll need to compete in a minimum of four of the next five races in the series with the Mont-Blanc Marathon followed by Sierre-Zinal, Tatra Sky Marathon, and Headlands and Mammoth Trail Fest in the US.

But the good news is it still looks relatively wide open with three different winners so far.

“The level is impressive, but I find it more exciting than frightening,” said Luakli. “With the women, it’s hard to predict who will take the overall win, and I think that’s pretty cool.

“When I see the start list for the Mont-Blanc Marathon, I’m super frustrated because I’d like to be at my best given the expected level there. But yes, I still want to win, especially since I won last year, which makes this year’s goal both exciting and daunting.”

Jonathan Turner
Written by
Jonathan Turner
Jonathan Turner is News Director for both TRI247 and RUN247, and is accustomed to big-name interviews, breaking news stories and providing unrivalled coverage for endurance sports.  

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