Just a few years ago, James Clugnet’s Olympic aspirations seemed like a pipe dream.
When the 25-year-old cross-country skier finished third last at the U23 World Championships in 2017, glory at the Winter Games looked to be firmly off the cards.
But, according to him, everything changed when the sport began benefitting from the support of The National Lottery in 2018.
Thanks to the support provided by National Lottery funding, Clugnet, born in Grenoble to an English mother and French father, will head to Beijing 2022 alongside Andrew Musgrave and Andrew Young in pursuit of a podium finish.
“I never thought it would be possible to go to the Olympics, let alone to compete for top ten and a medal which is what I’m going for,” he said.
“The team got super professional in 2018 and National Lottery funding made a huge difference for me.
“Suddenly I had coaches who were really following me, really involved and showed me what it took to be good. They really believed in me and pushed me to do it.
“I’ve always really wanted to be good - it wasn’t a problem of motivation, I didn’t know how to do it.”
Clugnet is just one of more than 1,000 athletes able to train full-time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support thanks to National Lottery funding.
After his 41st place finish a year earlier, the National Lottery's vital support helped Clugnet improve 28 places to place 13th at the next U23 World Championships.
Since then Clugnet has broken into the ranks of the best sprint skiers in the world and twice hit the World Cup top ten
He now competes alongside several of the skiing superstars he used to idolise, including Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, and Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov.
“I have a lot of respect for them and they do try to intimidate me because I’ve improved massively over the last few years. I’m not scared of them.
“I think they forget that we’re here. That’s our strength - they rule us out and all the better for us, because we can beat them at their own game and be the underdogs.”
Riding high after a successful season, he is optimistic about Team GB’s medal prospects heading into Beijing 2022.
“We can definitely finish top eight in the team sprint,” said Clugnet, who hopes to add to the 1,000-plus medals achieved by British athletes since the advent of National Lottery funding to elite sport in 1997.
“Youngy’s big and strong and a bit more endurance than me, he can maintain a high speed for a long time, especially on gradual uphills.
“I’m a bit more sparky and faster on shorter sections but I can’t necessarily hold it for that long.
“We’ve actually complemented each other really well over the years for training and we’ve helped each other to push our limits on our strengths and weaknesses. We’re very different and we bring the best out in each other.”
Since National Lottery funding to elite sport started in 1997, over 1,000 Olympic and Paralympic medals have been won, with more to come in Beijing 2022, Paris 2024 and beyond.