Record breaking performances at World Under 23 Championships

Team GB has just completed a week of record breaking races at the World Under 23 Nordic  Championships, with all the skiers producing improved personal results, four top 30 finishes and a close shave with a medal.

In the first race, which was a classic sprint, Andrew Young from Huntly, Aberdeenshire, came 29th in the timetrial qualification race and then finished 25th in the knock-out heats.  This is Andrew’s first year skiing as a senior and also his first visit to Liberec since 2009 when his race was memorably spoiled before it even began when a clumsy television cameraman knocked him over as he came out of the start gate, so it was good to get a really great race under his belt to start off the week!

Two days later the 15km freestyle race produced Team GB’s most successful day of the week.  A few years ago nobody would have thought it possible that a British skier would come in the top half of the field at any World Championship, let alone be a contender for a medal.  This year Andrew Young had his second top 30 finish when he came in 26th, then   Callum Smith and Alex Standen also had good races finishing 59th and 69th respectively, both of them well up on their initial seeding and so showing big personal improvements this season.  The last GB skier to go out in the timetrial event was Andrew Musgrave for who this is his strongest event.  He started with 9 higher ranked skiers going out after him who all had the advantage of being given updates on his time by their coaches standing on the trackside, so that they knew if just a little more effort might win them a medal. When he came over the line his was the fastest time, but as he waited he saw it beaten fairly convincingly by two Russians and then by just a few seconds by a German, leaving Andrew in 4th place – frustratingly close to a bronze medal but still the best ever result for Britain in international cross-country skiing.

The Russian team had dominated the week, especially in the men’s races where they had already taken the lion’s share of the medals, and going into the last event of the week, a skiathlon, they were again the favourites.  The women’s race consisted of 10km in the classic style and then 10km in skate technique, a gruelling endurance event especially given the very hilly terrain of the venue in Czech.  Fiona Hughes from Yorkshire had already had good personal best races in the sprint and in the freestyle timetrial, but this event plays to her strengths of great classic technique and stamina.  Ranked 43rd she completed the classic section in 34th place and fought hard through the skate to finish up in 36th.  The men’s race was 15km of each technique and the two Andrews again produced top 30 results.  Andrew Young skied a perfectly paced race to finish 23rd, a remarkable 18 places higher than he had been ranked at the start of the day.  Andrew Musgrave was up in the lead pack through most of the race but he could not keep with the two Russians who broke away half-way through the race and who went on to take gold and silver by a large margin, and he came over the line in 14th place.

As soon as the race was over the team had to pack fast and head to the airport where three of them got on a flight to Sochi, site of next year’s Olympic Games.  They will be racing on the Olympic tracks there in three World Cup events at the end of this week.