A jubilant Thomas Maloney Westgård collapsed to the ground in pain and relief after securing a top 15 finish.
It was a remarkable achievement for the Norwegian born Irish skier who just last month wasn’t sure that he would make the games.
The Team Ireland cross country skier origins started over 2,000 km away from the Northwestern European country.
Born in Leka, Norway, Thomas Irish roots stems from his maternal side, his mother an Irish citizen from Dunmore, CO Galway.
Unlike most athletes who were groomed in sports at a young age, Thomas’s adventure in skiing started during his mid-teens.
“I had skis when I was younger, but I didn’t really have the opportunity to ski because I lived on a wind through island in Norway, which doesn’t have much snow.
During my early years, I played a lot of soccer, cycling and running. I had an active childhood playing other sports.
It was when I turned 16, I made the choice to start skiing school in secondary school, which was about three hours away from where I live.”
Thomas struggled to grasp the sport initially, but he was able to hone his craft through passion and dedication.
“I was one of the worst when I started skiing, I always loved the endurance sport.
It was during the weeks, months, and years I was able to make really good progress. My progress hasn’t stopped.”
Despite the opportunity of representing Norway, where cross-country skiing is the national sport, the 26-year-old skier had always dreamt of waving the green, white and orange flag, and putting Ireland on the world map in the sport.
“I always dreamt of being in the World Championships and representing Ireland in the bigger events.
Norway have always produced top skiers unlike Ireland, this spurred me to be the first Irish top skier, help the country win titles and become the first person to put Ireland on the cross-country map.”
With the Irish-Norwegian participating in his second Winter Olympics for Team Ireland, the road to success has not been smooth sailing. Despite making sacrifices like training for the Olympics and deferring his Master’s programme in Sports Science to focus on the Olympics, Covid threatened to disrupt his preparation for the Winter games.
“I contracted Covid about a month ago, I had ten days without training, I was not feeling well at first. I was quite worried that I would not participate in the Winter Olympics.
But then I took things step by step with the training, and by the last week, I managed to pull off a fantastic shape. I think the way I overcame it was patience and getting enough rest.
After a slow start to the Olympics with a 43rd place finish at the 30km skiathlon, the 26-year-old followed that up with a 14th place at the 15km classic, finishing in the top 15 out of 85 athletes in a time of 40:01.5.
“It was a fantastic feeling for sure, I had a different mindset before the event when I had covid, as I thought at that stage a top 15 finish would be impossible with little preparation
I thought if I trained the days wisely by not training too hard while recovering, I would possibly finish in the top 30
But when I warmed up for the 15km event, I felt really good and felt I did everything right during the warmups.
I paced the race well, I had to consider the altitude so as not to push too hard too early and become tired. So, the key was really to pace it right which I did.”
With the 50km cross skiing event still to come on 19 February, Thomas will hope to take it one step further by securing a podium finish for Team Ireland at the 2022 games.
Impossible is nothing for this Irishman.
For more Galway Pulse stories click here.