British cross-country skier James Clugnet says he believes he has “unlimited talent” and thinks winning a medal at the Winter Olympics in Beijing is not beyond the realms of possibility.
The 24-year-old has gone under the radar, with Andrew Young and Andrew Musgrave both putting GB on the sport’s map in recent years, but he may be one of the most promising prospects the country has.
Born to a ski-loving French father and a British mother from London, Clugnet grew up on the snow, having been raised in the Alps. He speaks with a hybrid accent, but his passion for representing his mum’s side is clear.
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At a World Cup event in December last year, he finished eighth in a sprint event - his best finish at that level. The improvement has been rapid. Clugnet took up cross-country 14 years ago, but it is only over recent years that he has been in an elite set-up.
“I would like to say that I have unlimited talent and unlimited goals,” he told Eurosport.
“In my mind, I’ve always wanted to continue skiing until I couldn’t improve anymore. I’ve improved the last 10 years, and I would like to think that I can be the best in the world for many years.
“I reckon in a few years I can be at Andrew Young’s level, and hopefully even higher.”
Clugnet, Young and Musgrave will all be in Team GB’s squad, barring a disaster, as each has already met the selection criteria. With that in mind, the younger of the trio will be trying to get as much racing in as possible before the end of the year, when he will then focus on peaking for Beijing.
“I was definitely not good enough to join the French team, and they missed their chance because now I have the level to join it,” he said, as he explained why he represents Britain.
The set-up we have right now with Britain, it’s one of the best in the world. It’s only because I joined the British team that I’ve become good at skiing, which is crazy if you think about it. The country that doesn’t have any snow.
“The coaches believed in me, and that made me believe in myself. When I raced in 2017, I competed in the World Championships and I was in the 70s.
“The year after I trained really well, that’s when I got support from UK Sport, and I made a massive step that no-one noticed because I went from being a bad skier to an average skier, and then the year after I did another big step.
“In two years, I improved to 12th in the World Championships - that’s unbelievable and that’s all because of the super professional people following us and coaching me.”
Clugnet believes there is potential for Britain to become a force in the ski disciplines over the next few decades. With the backing of GB Snowsport, and enthusiasm from the public, he actually believes the UK is a relatively untapped resource for talent.
“Snow sport might not be looked at as being so big in Britain, but I reckon it is big,” he said.
“British people love skiing, we can’t ski in Britain but if you go to French or Austrian resorts, it’s packed with Brits. It’s getting bigger, there’s lots of people involved in summer, like roller skiing”.
As for the medal in Beijing, Clugnet is completely serious about his chances - but he knows the best opportunity will be with Young in the team sprint freestyle.
“I know I can get to the semi-final individually, so top 12, and when you get there, anything is possible,” he said.
If I have a really good day, I can go to the final and podium - I definitely dare to dream. It’s so thrilling to think about everything I’m capable of doing, and when you reach your goals, it’s an amazing feeling.
“If not individually, there will definitely be medals possible in the team.
“Classic style doesn’t suit us the best, but we have a good shot at a medal in the sprint, as well as individually. It’s really promising for the next few years.”
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