Barron realises Olympic ambition with Ireland

THERE are numerous ways to get to Vancouver, and of the young Aberdeenshire trio who will compete at next month's Winter Olympics, PJ Barron chose the most complicated route.

A day after Andrew Musgrave, 19, and 17-year-old Andrew Young were named in the team to represent Great Britain in the 15km cross-country skiing event on the slopes of Whistler, their north-east rival won selection yesterday for Ireland. Barron's confirmation as an honorary Irishman comes a little over a year since he swallowed his pride and realised that exploring his maternal heritage could be his quickest route to the top.

The fact that Barron, Musgrave and Young all hail from the Huntly area is not the only thing they have in common. They all know that most endurance skiers do not peak until they turn 30 and have the comfort of knowing that time is on their side.

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What distinguishes Barron is he realised late in 2008 that he was likely to be beaten to Vancouver by the two cubs, and took a calculated risk. It paid off yesterday when he was named in an Irish team of seven ahead of Paul Griffin, who rowed for Ireland in Beijing less than 18 months ago before swapping river for piste.

"I sort of knew I was in pole position but you never know for sure until you are actually told, so it was a nice surprise and a great way to start this competition I am at," he said yesterday from the FIS Under-23 World Championships in Hinderzarten, Germany.

Barron, who has a grandmother from Dublin and grandfather from Belfast, has spent little time on the other side of the Irish Sea since childhood and admits the opening ceremony in Vancouver, when he will march behind the Tricolour as one of seven representatives of a country of 4.5million, will be a strange experience.

"I'm really not sure how I will feel – it's something pretty difficult to predict," said Barron. "But I would imagine I'll be very proud and it will be a very special moment.

"Mum is really delighted but all the family were waiting with bated breath and my parents are both very supportive of the whole idea. It was more my decision than anyone else's, and it is working out well at the moment.

He added: "A couple of seasons ago I was out in Canada for my gap year, and I had always spoken about the Irish thing with the guys I train with, but never taken it seriously. It was one of the coaches who really put me into a new frame of mind – he said to me there was no point in just talking about this, because I would always be thinking 'What if?' He said: 'Unless you take a chance and make the leap, you will never know', so that got me thinking. I started to realise it would give me a greater chance as an under-23 to make the big competitions – and it has worked out.

"But the idea was not just to get to Vancouver. As a cross-country skier you don't peak until you are between 28 and 32 so I am really young to be going as a senior skier. The 2014 Games actually seemed like a more realistic option, but Vancouver has come along and it's great to get in early and get the experience that I can hopefully put to use in future Olympics."

Whether future Olympics will see him retain his new nationality or switch back – he remains a member of the British Nordic Development squad – he is too young to know. But his choice has opened doors that were otherwise closed.