He’s one of Britain’s most experienced Winter Olympians, and Andrew Musgrave is fully aware of the impact that the Games can have back home
It’s a couple of weeks to go before the start of the Beijing Olympic Winter Games, and Andrew Musgrave is explaining the level of cold at his pre-Games base in Livigno, Italy. “It’s been bloody cold, to be honest with you!” How cold is that? “Well, it’s been a wee bit windy and below -20 every morning. And the cross-country tracks are right in the bottom of the valley, so the sun doesn’t reach them until almost lunchtime…”
It’s a throwaway remark, but it points to something at the heart of the Cross-Country skier’s experiences: this is a sport that exposes you to extremes in every conceivable way. Into this 13th year at the upper reaches of the sport, and with Beijing representing his fourth shot at the Olympic Winter Games, 31-year-old Musgrave has got a wealth of experience when it comes to those extremes.
While the sport may be one of the most physically demanding of any that an athlete could choose to excel in, Musgrave reckons there are some areas that the British team has it easier than their counterparts. “We’re lucky in the British team,” he explains, “that unlike some of the bigger Cross-Country nations, we don’t have so much competition for a spot on the team. Some of those other nations have to peak for early season competition to have a shot at qualifying for the Olympics, whereas we’ve always been able to focus entirely on getting in form for the Games.”
It’s that sense of building to a peak which gives him confidence in his work going into Beijing. “To be honest, I’ve always felt like I’ve been in contention for a medal”, he says. “I know early season I’ve not been in the best form, but this year it’s all about getting me to my prime a bit later. Getting a solid result in the Tour de Ski (he came in fourth in the 15km Free Mass Start leg in late December) was definitely a confidence boost, but I’ve always thought I’m a contender.”
Musgrave is now in Beijing, one competition into his Games (a 17th place finish in the 15km+15m Skiathlon in a race he described as going at a “ridiculous pace”) and talking to him before flying out it’s clear how much the Games means to him.
“Yeah, it’s massive for us”, Musgrave says. “Cross Country obviously isn’t the biggest sport in the UK, but once every four years we get a chance to showcase the sport in front of the entire country. It’s really important to do everything we can to get our best results there.” Doesn’t that make it a touch intimidating? “Yeah, it’s nerve-wracking, definitely. But”, he continues, “I always perform at my best when I’m most nervous anyway!”.
Talking to Musgrave, it’s clear that he feels a lot of responsibility for the sport, as one of the country’s most experienced and successful competitors. “With the Olympics, you can definitely spark a bit of interest around the team in the country as a whole. And the thing with Cross Country is, it’s definitely possible to get into it in Britain. There’s clubs around the country, and I really hope we can get a little bit more interest around the sport through our performances.”
If there’s an uptick in interest around Cross Country skiing in Britain, at least part of that has to be down to the impact of Musgrave, and his teammates Andrew Young and James Clugnet, who between them have started to change perceptions about what British Cross Country skiers can achieve. Musgrave remembers a time where the reaction to a strong British performance was, at best, incredulity.
“Before it was such a massive shock if one of the Norwegians got beaten by a Brit. Probably some of them got made fun of a bit, like ‘who’s this getting beaten by some random British guy?!’, but over the past few years the respect has really gone up. People had these perceptions before, but we’ve been proving them wrong for a few years now.”
Indeed, those performances have been opening eyes in some of the traditional Nordic powerhouse nations, so much so that Norwegian TV channel, NRK, commissioned and developed a documentary this season following the exploits of Musgrave and his British teammates.
“It’s been really cool actually!”, Musgrave laughs. “With some of the other teams, they’re always portrayed as really serious, and I think this has been a chance for the documentary makers to show what another team is like behind the scenes. And, to be honest, to look into how we’ve got as good as we are now, when we come from a country that’s not really been known as a skiing nation.”
One thing the documentary absolutely picks up on is the positive atmosphere within the British team. “Yeah, we get on really well,” Musgrave explains, “and the atmosphere’s good. We’re a close-knit group, and I know that when we put in our best possible performances, we’re all capable of doing really well on race day.”
He also has warm words for Gabe Gledhill, one of the team’s up and coming stars. “Gabe’s a really good skier, a really promising young athlete,” he says. “Having him with us in the camp has been great for all of us. It really pushes you when there’s a junior athlete who comes in and suddenly, he’s challenging all of us.”
Whatever happens in the rest of his time in Beijing, Andrew Musgrave has already delivered a legacy for British Cross Country skiing. But for all his understanding of the big picture, there’s still one thing that drives him on more than anything else.
“I believe I’m a contender, but I’ve always thought that. Really, there’s no better feeling than going and doing a race, and crossing the finishing line knowing you’ve done as good as you can. That’s what I’m focused on.”
ANDREW MUSGRAVE BIOGRAPHY
- Born: 1990
- Discipline: Cross Country
- Squad: World Cup Squad
- Hometown: Oyne, Scotland
Header Image: Andrew Musgrave competes in the 15x15km Cross Country race at the Zhangjiakou National Cross Country Skiing Centre at Beijing 2022, Image Credit: Sam Mellish