James Clugnet hails 'team behind the team' ahead of Winter Olympics

·3-min read
James Clugnet of Great Britain competes in the Men's Sprint during the FIS Cross-Country World Cup (BILDBYRÅN)

James Clugnet credits the team behind the team for his own rapid rise and the success story that is British cross-country skiing, writes Tom Harle.

The 25-year-old sprint specialist has joined Andrew Musgrave and Andrew Young at the summit of the sport, going further than any Team GB athletes have gone before.

But things weren’t always so rosy and when he finished third last at the U23 World Championships in 2017, Clugnet’s Olympic ambitions looked like a pipe dream.

A switch flicked, according to the skier, in 2018 when the sport began benefitting from the support of The National Lottery.

“I never thought it would be possible to go to the Olympics, let alone to compete for top ten and a medal which is what I’m going for,” said Clugnet, who is one of over 1,000 athletes able to train full-time, access the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support thanks to vital National Lottery funding.

“The team got super professional in 2018 and National Lottery funding made a huge difference for me.

“Suddenly I had coaches who were really following me, really involved and showed me what it took to be good. They really believed in me and pushed me to do it.

“I’ve always really wanted to be good - it wasn’t a problem of motivation, I didn’t know how to do it.”

Having finished 41st a year earlier, he improved 28 places to 13th at the next U23 World Championships after feeling the benefit of an improved support system.

Since then Clugnet, born in Grenoble to an English mother and French father, has broken into the ranks of the best sprint skiers in the world and twice hit the World Cup top ten.

He regularly competes in quarter-final showdowns on the sport’s top-level circuit against global stars like Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo and Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov.

And he added: “I used to see these guys as idols, now I’m competing with them and racing with them.

“I have a lot of respect for them and they do try to intimidate me because I’ve improved massively over the last few years. I’m not scared of them.

“I think they forget that we’re here. That’s our strength - they rule us out and all the better for us, because we can beat them at their own game and be the underdogs.”

Clugnet certainly doesn’t lack confidence and believes a medal on Olympic debut isn’t beyond him or his team-mates.

He’s targeting a top ten in the individual sprint event and wants the same and better in the team sprint alongside Andrew Young, feeling a podium finish to be a realistic target.

Clugnet and Young finished sixth at December’s World Cup team sprint in Dresden, Britain’s joint best-ever placing in the event.

“We can definitely finish top eight in the team sprint,” said Clugnet, who hopes to add to the 1,000-plus medals achieved by British athletes since the advent of National Lottery funding to elite sport in 1997.

“Youngy’s big and strong and a bit more endurance than me, he can maintain a high speed for a long time especially on gradual uphills.

“I’m a bit more sparky and faster on shorter sections but I can’t necessarily hold it for that long.

“We’ve actually complemented each other really well over the years for training and we’ve helped each other to push our limits on our strengths and weaknesses. We’re very different and we bring the best out in each other.”

No one does more to support our Olympic and Paralympic athletes than National Lottery players, who raise more than £30 million each week for good causes including grassroots and elite sport. Discover the positive impact playing the National Lottery has at www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved by using the hashtag: #TNLAthletes

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