Musgrave recognises need for speed at fourth Games with time ticking on Olympic dream

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Team GB's cross-country skier Andrew Musgrave is hoping to go fast at his fourth Winter Olympics
Team GB's cross-country skier Andrew Musgrave is hoping to go fast at his fourth Winter Olympics

Andrew Musgrave likes to think of himself as a big game skier but admits his Olympic ambition could be running out of mountain, writes James Toney.

Scottish star Musgrave heads to his fourth Games in Beijing with increasing confidence and he's certainly not the sort to be dazzled by the big stage lights.

It's more than a decade since he first appeared on the cross-country skiing international circuit, where venues would have to desperately source a British flag to flutter alongside the Nordic powerhouses that have long dominated this sport.

Musgrave soon proved he wasn't there to be a subject of puzzlement or to make up the numbers - his victory in the 2014 Norwegian Championships made front page news and prompted a post-mortem in Oslo akin to a national crisis.

"I'm getting towards the end of my time when a medal is likely, so I need to go fast this time," admitted Musgrave, 31, who is back to full fitness after suffering a shoulder injury in the close season.

"I'm a more stable athlete than I was four years ago, I'm older and more experienced but I also know I've not got limitless attempts at this.

"My top level in 2019 was as good as now but the last few years I've got better at peaking my best form for the important races in the season, that really gives me confidence. I'm definitely one of the podium potential guys and now it's up to me to prove it."

Musgrave made his debut in Vancouver as a teenager but didn't make the top 50 in his three events.

Usually the wrong sort of snow causes grief to our trains but in Sochi it ultimately derailed Musgrave. "Cool. Hot. Yours" was the logo for those Games but for Musgrave was a bit too hot and just not cool enough. "I skied like a tranquillised badger," said Musgrave, who is one of over 1,000 athletes who are able to train full-time, access the world’s best coaches and benefit from vital National Lottery funding.

And then came Pyeongchang, Musgrave a hot medal contender following a fourth place in the previous year's World Championships, the best-ever result by a British Nordic skier.

He finished seventh in the skiathlon, which was only meant to be his warm-up event, but then caught a virus and struggled in the 15km and 50km.

"I'm going to eat a doughnut and not think about skiing," he moaned.

Quick on skis and even quicker with a quip, Musgrave knows this is the chance to make headlines for the right reasons.

The three events on his schedule include the marathon 50km, two hours of lung-burning endurance endeavour like perhaps no other event at the Games.

"The older you get the better you get at long distances and that's why my best chances are in the 30km and 50km. My sprint days are probably gone, I'm afraid," he said.

"My racing has been improving throughout the season and that trajectory - and all my training - gives me lots of hope for the Games."

At last year's World Championships Musgrave finished seventh in the 30km, with only Russians and Norwegians ahead of him. A few days later another top ten followed in the 50km. It's form that has inspired his Beijing team-mates, including best mate Andrew Young and James Clugnet, who has made no secret of his own medal intentions.

For very obvious reasons, the theme of these Games is about staying healthy. Masks, sanitiser and social distancing will again be the buzzwords and Musgrave is not complaining.

"At the last two Games I've got ill, nothing serious but enough to mean that I was a few percent off and that's no good if you want to be a contender," added Musgrave, 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.

"Our sport is so competitive, there isn't a margin for being a fraction below-par. Perhaps all these Covid rules will keep me healthy this time."

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