Andrew Musgrave in seventh heaven but aiming higher on Friday
Yes, three Norwegians filled the 2x15k skiathlon medal spots, but be in no doubt, Musgrave had them on the tips of their skis entering the final loop of eight in second place. At that point he conceded that his eyes were bigger than his belly, that he had gone too early in pursuit of would-be gold medalist Simen Krueger.
For every Musgrave in Scotland there are a thousand young Scandies hitched to a set of planks doing what comes naturally in winter snowscapes shaped by latitude. He had to move there to compete, as did the other Brit in the race, Callum Smith, who followed Musgrave to Norway’s sub Arctic tundra 18 months ago.
“David versus Goliath” is how Musgrave’s Norwegian coach assesses the scale of the challenge. Musgrave agrees: “It’s just a completely different world for the Norwegians. It’s their national sport and you just can’t compare what we’ve got with what they’ve got,” he said.
“They have this massive support team. Today their coaches were out doing all the wax testing. We’ve got one guy waxing all the skis and the Norwegians have got so many. It’s just completely different.”
With the immersion and growing investment in coaching and technical support the gains are starting to come. Four years ago in Sochi Musgrave finished 28th, which was also unprecedented territory for a Briton. And this is not Musgrave’s favourite event. That would be the 15k free on Friday, about which he was confident enough to sign off here with the fate tempter: “See you on the podium.”
Was that a medal that got away, he was asked when he finally made it to the British delegation after filling the books of Norwegian journalists who are more familiar with his talents – speaking in fluent Norwegian of course. “It was a little bit. I felt awesome with about a lap and a half to go and felt that I would be in the fight for the victory. Going out on the last lap, I tried to keep up with Kreuger (pictured) but the Norwegian guys weren’t wanting to catch up. When they’ve got one Norwegian guy up the front, they were letting the others do the work,” he said.
“I was expecting the others to come past and nobody did. I just ended up going a little bit too hard on the last lap. I was still thinking I could be in the fight for silver and bronze but the second to last hill, I just realised my legs were a little bit heavy and I didn’t quite have enough in the tank.
“It’s a decent result but I’m not at the Olympics to come seventh. I’m here to fight for a win. That’s why I do this. I think all the guys at the top, if you don’t believe you can win, then you’re not going to spend the thousands of hours out training, suffering every week, pushing your pain limits every session. You don’t do that if you don’t believe you can win.”
Which brings us to Friday and the 15k free, a discipline that does not require participants to race half the distance using the classic technique, an element with which Musgrave is not as comfortable. Once the classic stipulation was lifted at halfway, Musgrave rocketed from tenth to second. And, despite his late misjudgment, he goes forth with sword unsheathed looking for scalps.
“If you told me ten years ago I would be seventh in the Olympics, I wouldn’t have thought I would be disappointed,” he said. “But that is what makes an athlete. You want more. You want to push harder. It does give me confidence. The 15k should be my best event. I was in the fight for the medals here until the last couple of kilometres. So when this isn’t my best, come Friday I should be in the fight for the victory.”
It’s a date. See you on that podium, son.