He’s a three-time Olympian and soon to be one of the stars of a new documentary on Norwegian TV. But as an introvert in the spotlight, Andrew Young won’t let anything distract him.
Catching up with Andrew Young, one of Britain’s top Nordic skiing talents and a member of the country’s three-man Elite squad in the discipline, talk turns to covid-19 and the experiences of training and competing in a covid-impacted world. Nothing too surprising in that – it was, after all, a major factor in almost every athlete’s experience of the past 18 months. What’s different, though, is the way that Young sees lessons from that time which could lead to long-term benefits.
“Better nutrition, better hygiene, less days off training because of illness,” he starts listing the positive outcomes of the more rigid training experience that pandemic management protocols required. “A lot of these things will stay in place as a routine in the team.” Take masks, for example. “I can’t ever imagine flying to a race or training camp without a mask now, even if they aren’t mandatory. It just makes sense. I don’t understand why we didn’t use them before.”
Young isn’t unaware of the additional stresses faced by many athletes during the time, but he’s full of praise for how the Nordic team were supported. “The team did a great job last season of keeping us healthy,” he says. “Cross country skiing is a hugely physically demanding sport, and if your body isn’t 100%, you’re not going to perform. So, actually, we found a lot of these things helped our performance.”
Did he miss the social side? Young answers carefully. “In a lot of ways, the rules actually made our lives a lot easier. I’m a bit of an introvert anyway, and now we weren’t allowed to be social. The only thing we could do was focus on training and competing.”
“Honestly,” he says, “it made my life easier. There was a lot less ‘noise’ going on.”
He may not be the man to raise the volume, but around Andrew Young and the Nordic team, there’s a lot of interest as the season begins to gear up.
Young, along with his Nordic squad teammates, is soon to be the focus of a new documentary for Norwegian broadcaster NRK, focusing on Britain’s underdog status, and the dedication shown by the squad in their efforts to overcome the odds. Far from a British Cool Runnings, though, early footage highlights the brutal physical demands of the Nordic discipline, and the clear punishment it enacts on its top athletes.
Young himself is no stranger to those physical demands of the sport, not least in the astonishing recovery from leg fracture to a return to competition in just four weeks last season. “The recovery was a bit of a rollercoaster!”, he explains. “There were definitely times where I had given up on competing again last season, and other times where I thought I could get back in really high-end physical condition. In the end, I was somewhere in between; I was able to race, but I’d lost too much form.”
It was a recovery process not helped by the impacts of covid – “it was probably at its worst in Trondheim at that point” – which left Young having to improvise. “Because of covid, I was struggling with gym closures and finding places to train. Luckily, I had some contacts which means I could borrow a spin bike, and get on a ski erg.”
After two weeks he was back on skis, and a further week on able to properly start using his leg again. Race readiness, though, proved elusive. “In the end I could ski okay,” he says, “but I’d probably lost too much time and intensity in training to be competitive. I raced at World Championships, but I was miles off the pace.”
For most people – even for most athletes – simply getting back to race fitness would be an achievement, but Young is a man whose focus is clearly on the front of the pack, not making up the numbers.
Though he’s yet to turn 30 (his birthday falling right in the middle of the Beijing Winter Olympic schedule), Young – like Nordic teammate, Andrew Musgrave – is on the cusp of his fourth appearance at the Winter Olympic Games. Describing his previous Olympic experiences as “a really mixed bag”, his self-analytical mindset comes to the fore again. And, while he acknowledges that in past Olympics he’s had “some performances that I’m really proud of”, he clearly feels obliged to mention some “awful races” too. Delving a little deeper, it’s apparent that the self-criticism comes from a belief that the best is yet to come.
“When I’m at my best, I’m capable of podiums in the World Cup,” he explains. “But I’ve not put that performance together in a championship yet.”
It’s a level of ability he insists sees in his teammates too. “Everybody in the squad is a world class skier on their day. We all bring slightly different strengths to the table, and we certainly have the capabilities and support to be competitive at the front end of the World Cup.”
And as for Beijing, and his fourth Olympic Games? “This season is all about the Olympics”, he admits. “I’m often in my best shape before Christmas, so we’ve made some changes this year to try and push that back to February.” He’s focused on the sprint discipline but doesn’t rule out his chances in the distance events either.
And, hopefully this time, enjoying it. “Finding the balance of enjoy the experience and remaining focused on competing can be difficult at the Olympics”, he says. “Things will be different to normal, but that’s okay. Just focus on the few key things that are important for your performance.”
Nobody should be in any doubt about Andrew Young’s focus. He’s a man with both eyes on the finishing line.
Andrew Young Biography:
- Born: 1992
- Discipline: Nordic
- Squad: Elite Squad
- Hometown: Huntly, Scotland
- Olympic Finishes: 2010 – 15km Individual (74th), Sprint (60th); 2014 – 15km Individual (37th), Sprint (42nd); 2018 – 15km Individual (57th), Sprint (46th), Team Sprint (12th)
Header Image: Andrew Young