Sunday 22 July 2018

'It was gruelling but I dreamed of this day since I was about 10'

Westgaard left to rue ‘horrendous’ debut at Olympics but shot at redemption lies ahead

Thomas Westgaard battles his way towards the finish of the 30km Duathlon on day two of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Thomas Westgaard battles his way towards the finish of the 30km Duathlon on day two of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

Ireland's Thomas Westgaard described his Winter Olympic debut yesterday as "horrendous", but he still got a rousing ovation from the PyeongChang crowd for being gutsy enough to complete it.

Westgaard was 60th, in one hour and 32 minutes, in the particularly tough 30km skiathlon, which eight men didn't even finish due to the hilly course, high winds and -13 degree temperatures.

"Despite the fact that I didn't feel 100 per cent I'm extremely proud to get my Olympic debut for Ireland. It's a big honour.

"I dreamed about this since I was about 10 so this was a big day for me," said the Norwegian-born cross-country skier with a Galway mother.

"The last 10k was like nothing I've ever experienced, it was just horrendous," he said.

"In that third lap I just gave it everything. I was seeing stars. It was one of the most gruelling experiences I ever had."

The 22-year-old revealed that he has been ill in recent weeks so, depending on his recovery, he may not take part in his three remaining events and could just concentrate on the 50km 'classic style' on February 24, which is his best event.

The skiathlon, in which skiers change styles and skis halfway, provided one of the day's standout stories as it was won by a man who fell and broke one of his poles on the very first corner.

Simen Hegstad Krueger battled back to lead Norway's clean sweep of medals, quickly collecting a replacement pole and chasing down the breakaway pack to win in one hour and 16 minutes on his Olympic debut.

Clare skier Patrick McMillan has to wait for his, though, after winds of up to 45mph forced the postponement of the men's downhill until Thursday.

The men's super-G, which is McMillan's other event, has now been moved to Friday, meaning the Killaloe skier must now race twice in 24 hours. However, he is not worried, saying: "This is very normal. In downhill we often have to wait for the weather."

The heavy gusts made a lottery of the men's snowboard slopestyle final, which was won by 17-year-old American Redmond Gerard, the second youngest man to win Winter Olympic gold after famous Finnish ski jumper Toni Nieminen (16) in 1992.

Canadian Mark McMorris was also delighted to take bronze 11 months after he broke 17 bones in an off-piste crash.

He said: "Eight months ago I probably didn't think I was going to be able to snowboard at this level ever again. I've been stuck in the contest scene or on a death bed so this feels like a win."

Tess Arbez (20), the only woman on the Irish team, makes her Olympic debut in the giant slalom today.

Her grandfather Frances Neerman was born in Carlow and grew up in Dublin after his father Auguste came to Ireland from Belgium in the 1920s to help set up the Carlow Sugar Factory.

Highlights on RTE 2, 7pm, Live BBC1, 12.05am, Highlights BBC2, 7pm

Alpine skier Tess Arbez competes in the giant slalom today at 4:45am- 6-25am Irish time

Irish Independent

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