Andrew Musgrave’s Olympic Column – Part I: «Heading to Beijing is a bit of step into the unknown for the British cross-country team»

Written by Andrew Musgrave

Livigno, Italia (Idrettspolitikk.no). We’re now into the final build up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing my best to share my experiences and give an insight into an athlete’s perspective of the Games, here on Idrettspolitikk.no.

I can’t promise that I’ll unearth any breaking stories, but hopefully my­ insider’s account will be at least vaguely interesting. And who knows, maybe I will luck out and have some earth-shattering, exciting headline to report to you while I’m there!

Team GB cross-country skier Andrew Musgrave in front og his laptop sharing his Beijing Games experiences with Idrettspoltikk.no’s readers.

Into the unknown

Heading to Beijing is a bit of step into the unknown for the British cross-country team. Our 2021 World Cup at the Olympic venue was cancelled due to covid, so we really don’t know much about what to expect. We’ve seen some maps and GPS data of the race courses, a few terrible videos of a Chinese guy on an ATV driving round the stadium in the mud, and a very small-scale map of where the athlete village is in relation to Beijing, but that’s about it.

We’ve still got quite a lot of questions; What will the athlete village be like? How will the snow conditions be? To what extent – if any – will the Chinese be relaxing their cyber-restrictions to allow access to banned western social media and other websites?

At this point in time, I’d normally be worrying about the fact we haven’t got much of a clue what we’re heading to in China, that the burner phone I was meant to be getting never got sent to me, or some other stupid, minor detail in my preparation. Now though, all these small details seem rather unimportant in comparison to the wave of omicron spreading throughout the world.

– It feels a bit like a lottery

Currently, it feels a bit like a lottery as to who will make it to the start line in Beijing. Some will be ill, stuck isolating, while others may be recovered and fully healthy, but stuck on the wrong continent unable to travel due to the strict rules around testing. China’s zero covid policy doesn’t really seem compatible with the Olympic Games and omicron.

As I write this, news has just broken that covid has spread to multiple athletes on the Norwegian cross-country team, the powerhouse of cross-country skiing. Hopes of the Games being fair and equal, with all the favourites on the start line are beginning to seem more and more like a pipedream.

Questions can be asked as to whether the Games should or could have been postponed, but now though, it seems that that ship has sailed. With athletes and staff already on the ground in China, it is surely too late for any postponement to occur. Now it’s a case of crossing our fingers and hoping for as little disruption as possible, under the circumstances.

I really hope that the 2022 Olympic Champions won’t forever have an asterisk by their name, as champions of a second-class Games.

Different pre-Games training camp

The British cross-country pre-Games training camp has been less a case of optimising the build-up to the Olympics, than it’s been of attempting to minimise covid-risk as much as humanly possible.  We have all been living in separate rooms, eaten food in our own rooms, and worn FFP2 masks on the few occasions we’ve been in the vicinity of one another.

When I’ve wanted to speak to coaches or teammates, it’s been via WhatsApp or Facetime, even though they’re the other side of my bedroom wall. Our physiotherapist cancelled his flights and stayed at home- the risk of him coming down after being in contact with so many patients in Oslo was too great.

We’re lucky to have a cook along with us on the camp, so we can stay in apartments and avoid the need to be in contact with hotel and restaurant staff or take food from a hotel buffet.

Strength training has gone from being done at anti-social times of day to avoid anyone at the gym, to improvised in-room sessions to completely cut out the risks of a public gym.

Fingers crossed!

The British Olympic Association has a stricter test regime than that required by the Chinese authorities, involving daily lateral flow tests and regular, extra PCR tests. Despite all these measures, it still feels like getting to Beijing is going to come down to luck in the end.

For now, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a bit of luck, making it to Beijing in a few days, and staying healthy for the duration of the Games.

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