Thomas Maloney Westgaard
IRISH cross-country skier Thomas Maloney Westgaard admits that, in some ways, his life has been unaffected by the global pandemic.
“As an endurance athlete you’re nearly always paranoid about your health. If you’re in good shape but get a cold in this game it will take weeks before you’re back on track so you’re always really careful, washing your hands etc. That is the strange life cross-country skiers live.”
It is certainly a solitary one for the 26-year-old Irish-Norwegian 15km classic specialist who trains up to 200km a-week on snowy tracks in Trondheim where there is only six hours of daylight at this time of year.
“My longest session would be 5 hours, about 58km. It’s a strange thing but when you’re in the forest, often just by yourself and a long way from other people, you often start visualising races and start dreaming about how the event will go.
“It can feel like everything else disappears and you only focus for the main thing, which is to be in the best shape for the biggest day. To take the Olympic path is quite a magnificent thing I think and is a huge carrot that makes me focus.”
Since making his Olympic debut in 2018 Thomas has finished a degree in Sports Science and progressed to his Masters but he’s taken this year off study “to go all in for the Olympics” which take place in Beijing, February 4-20, 2022.
Cross country skiers rival cyclists as the world’s top endurance athletes. He has a resting heart rate of 39 and a VO2max of 77 but points out that the superstars of his sport have over 90.
He is well acquainted with them because Norwegians dominate his sport right now and won seven of the 12 golds available at the last Olympics.
Thomas, who grew up on the tiny island of Leka (600 inhabitants), represents Ireland thanks to his mother Celia Maloney from Dunmore Co Galway who moved to Norway 35 years ago after meeting her Norwegian husband on a sun holiday in the Canaries.
A dozen of his family, including some relatives he had not seen in 10 years, travelled to South Korea to support him when he became only Ireland’s fourth Olympian at cross-country but sadly not his father.
What few knew was the emotional turmoil Thomas was suffering at those Olympics because his beloved dad Ove was terminally ill with cancer and passed away, aged only 66, three months later.
“I knew things were coming to an end but, he was so focussed on me doing my best and I was really happy that I could finish the races and that he witnessed that. It was huge for both of us.
“He was important for me in so many ways and drove the scooter at home that made all the skiing tracks for me when I was young.