A downhill struggle: GB’s Dougie Crawford on road to recovery
Andrew Magee catches up with British skier Dougie Crawford as he continues his recovery from a serious ankle injury
For most British-based sports fans, 31 December 2011 was spent celebrating the beginning of what should be an exceptional year for British sport – but for Britain’s top skier, the night was not so buoyant.
“I spent New Year’s Eve in bed,” says Dougie Crawford, after an accident in training left him with a fractured Talus bone in his left ankle.
“I was skiing really well, but I came into a turn and got hooked up in a rut, spun out and slid into another course, hit the base of another gate and broke my ankle.
“I actually skied down the mountain because I didn’t think it would be that serious.”
Doctors initially diagnosed the 24-year-old Scot with ruptured ligaments, but further scans showed a displaced fracture, requiring surgery, some screws and a 12 week recovery period.
A not-so-happy new year.
After overcoming a double hernia and a groin injury that kept him out for the whole of last season, Crawford’s return to action at the start of the 2011-12 season had begun positively.
“It was starting to go well again. I was just finding my feet after the injuries last year and was starting to perform. I skied some really good sections in the world cup but never a full run.
“I had a really good result in my first race back in Chile. I think that was partly because there was no pressure because I had no expectations, having not skied for over a year.
“I was getting confidence and had some very good sections in the Val Gardena World Cup and just before Christmas I changed to a different boot. The change of set up worked wonders and really seemed to suit my style of skiing. I’d just started skiing very well, then the crash happened.”
A disappointing injury was made slightly more bearable by positive medical news. The bone was operated on before it began to heal out of place, and a relatively short recovery period could see the Scot back on the slopes before the season is out.
Though the British Ski Championships in late March could come just too soon for Crawford, a swift return to action and a strong summer of training should aid his aims of a top 30 breakthrough next season.
“I really want to be making world cup points and breaking into that top group,” he said. “If I can go into next season strong and get lots of time on snow to get technically stronger, then I feel like I can make progress.
“I feel like I’ve made a really big step already, but I haven’t quite the chance to show it yet.”
Despite injuries plaguing his past two seasons, the knocks haven’t affected his competitive mentality.
“My injuries haven’t occurred in competition, so they haven’t really affected my confidence for races.
“It does take a bit of time to get your confidence back to go fast and start feeling comfortable again, but what I’ve found this year is that there is a lot more to the mental side of going into races, and knowing how to handle the pressure of it.”
Crawford has been helped in that respect by his girlfriend, and fellow British alpine skier, Chemmy Alcott.
Currently starring in ITV’s Dancing on Ice, 29-year-old Alcott is still recovering from a horrendous leg break sustained in December 2010 – a run Crawford was commentating on at the time – and the pair have been able to support each other through their recoveries.
“The silver lining I guess is that we were both injured together, both last year and this year, so we were able to help each other out and look after each other,” Crawford added.
“She reminds me to be careful and helps keep me grounded rather than trying to rush things through, because the worst thing is setting yourself back by trying to be too quick or too smart with your injury.”
And if Alcott offers sound medical advice, then Crawford boasts some smooth crooning.
“Soon after her crash, Chemmy would wake up crying in pain in the night and I didn’t really know what else to do. So I tried to sing to her, but I’m not a very good singer.
“I sang a lot of The Beatles to her, I don’t know why, but thankfully she’s not had to return the favour because I’ve not been in as much pain as she was.
“Chem’s obviously got quite a bit more to go when she gets back on skis trying to break down the mental barriers of her crash but I’ve no doubt she’ll do it. Physically she’s in good shape and the ice skating’s helping her mentally as well.”
And would the young Scot consider following his girlfriend out onto the ice?
“I’d probably do it!” he laughs. “It’s not ideal timing for us because it comes in the middle of the winter season and we’d rather be skiing, but I’ve enjoyed being involved with it all.
“I think I’d have a real issue dancing on TV though. I’m not a very good dancer.”
Whether or not a TV career beckons, one thing that is on the horizon is the next Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia in 2014. But that is not the only target on Crawford’s road to recovery.
“Sochi is a big goal and being there and being competitive is massive. The Olympics is always a huge thing for the Brits. But there’s also a World Championship next year as well as lots of world cup events, which are really important to me.”
And it’s success in those events that Crawford is targeting, hopefully raising the profile of British skiing in the process. But can we as a nation ever really target sustained skiing success? The Scot certainly hopes so.
“I think we will have a world champion one day. When Chemmy crashed she was ranked 8th in the world, so she was really not far away.
“A lot of the other teams have more money behind them, while we’re chasing around trying to find sponsors. Even if I had been fit this year I don’t think I would have been able to afford to ski through until April.
“But I do think the chance is there and it’s just about having the support and the confidence that you can do it. There are lots of strong young guys coming through and the guys that are there just now are right up there with other skiers for our age groups from the bigger countries. We’ve just got to build towards that kind of world class programme.”
For somebody coming back from yet another injury, that kind of confidence is admirable. And if his recovery goes as well as his girlfriend’s skating career, then Crawford could well be the man to lead that charge of Britain’s next generation of skiers.