Introducing… Thomas Maloney Westgaard (Cross Country Skiing)

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.

Thomas Westgaard speaking about his father who passed away shortly after the games in 2018

“It was a very emotional ride for me to PyeongChang but you are happy to have these memories and to have made them in time,” he says. “I will always ski for him and he will always be in my mind when I am skiing, but it will be good to compete in another Olympics where I have a different mindset.”

He is sacrificing Christmas at home for the first time to compete in the upcoming ‘Tour de Ski’, six important World Cup races in Switzerland, Germany and Italy, from December 28 to January 4.
His 2018 results – 60th and 62nd – were Ireland’s best ever in Olympic cross-country but he feels he has improved a lot since and proved that by finishing 9th, at one of those races in Val di Fiemme last January.

He was also 25th in the 50km classic at last year’s World Championships, a huge achievement, but the 50km in the Olympics, which he will also compete in, is ‘freestyle’. Cross Country is raced on tracks (classic style) or skated (freestyle) on open snow and classic is his preferred technique.

He has clearly made huge progress in the past few years and is approaching 2022 with high confidence.

“Back then I was not even ranked in the top 400 in the world, now I am in the top 85 so I am working hard on continuing that progress in the coming months and then hope I will be selected.”

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