By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Andrew Musgrave likened himself to a ‘tranquilised badger’ at the 2014 Sochi Olympics but the Briton has alerted the big names of cross-country skiing to his potential ahead of the Pyeongchang Games next February.
The 27-year-old, who was born in England and lived in Alaska before returning to Scotland and then moving to Norway, finished fourth in the 50km at this year’s world championships in Lahti, Finland.
That was a big step and the target now is to become the country’s first medalist in a Nordic ski event at the Olympics.
“If I improve this coming season as I think I have done through the summer, then hopefully I should actually be one of the realistic medal chances that I wasn’t in Sochi,” he told Reuters.
“In skating last year I was still an outsider but an outsider with a much better chance of a medal than I was in 2014.
“I showed that by performing at the world championships and I’m planning on being one of the main contenders this season,” he said by telephone from a training camp in Majorca.
The World Cup season starts in November.
Musgrave went to Sochi after winning at the Norwegian championships — a shock that saw him reprise a famous piece of commentary from a 1981 World Cup soccer qualifier in which Norway beat England 2-1.
“Your boys took a hell of a beating,” he declared as the Norwegian media lamented a crisis in the national sport.
Normal service was soon resumed, with Norwegian Ola Vigen Hattestad taking sprint gold at Sochi. Musgrave was 27th. He also finished 44th in the 15km classic and 53rd in the 50km free.
“Sometimes you ski fast, sometimes you ski like a tranquilised badger,” he said at the time.
BETTER KNOWN IN NORWAY
Musgrave now reckons he let the hype get to his head.
“I think realistically I wasn’t a medal contender,” he said. “If I’d have had another ridiculously amazing day in conditions that suited me then it was a massive outside chance but I wasn’t consistently at that level at all.”
Musgrave feels he is now.
“I think I’m a bit more known in Norway,” said the skier, whose own compatriots are far less likely to recognize him than the citizens of Trondheim.
“When I beat the entire Norwegian team (in the 50k at the world championships), they didn’t think it was great but at the same time it doesn’t seem to be such a terrible, shameful thing to be beaten by me any more as it used to be.”
The Briton was also 11th in the 30k skiathlon and 12th in the 15k classic at the world championships in Finland.
“I felt like I was a better skier last year than the season before. I’ve continued on with the same progress and I feel I’m stronger now than I was last summer,” he said.
“I seem to be going faster, stronger and everything’s looking good compared to last year. I think prospects for the winter should be good.”
In cross-country skiing, competitors propel themselves either by striding forward (classic style) or side-to-side in a skating motion (skate skiing).
With the style used in each event alternating from one major championship to the next, the 50k in Pyeongchang will be classic style with the 15k switching around to skate.
Musgrave said that played to his strengths because he was stronger at the 15k skate.
He has also learned some important lessons from Sochi.
“I think one of the reasons I under-performed in Sochi was just that I trained a little bit too hard in the run-up, which is kind of easy to do when you feel like you’re in the best form of your life,” he said.
“I thought ‘I’m good enough, got to take advantage of this’ and then kind of went a bit mental in training. Training too hard and just pushing a little bit over the limit in all the sessions.
“I’ve learned a lot from that… you’ve just got to time everything perfectly for that one day that happens once every four years.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)