LAST weekend, Norwegian, Swedish, and Eastern European TV crews crowded round at the conclusion of the World Cup ski cross-country in Toblach. Pretty much standard for a Nordic event. Except that the podium in the freestyle sprint included a Scot, Andrew Young, from Huntly.

This was historic: the first appearance on a World Cup podium by any UK cross-country skier. Young led on the final hill of the 1500m course, but over-cooked his effort and was run down, finishing a close third. "I thought I was going to win," he said, "but I was a lot more tired than I thought. The other guys had 18 minutes between their semi and the final. I only had 12. They were better recovered."

Nevertheless, this was a seismic shift – about as improbable as Jamaica's Cool Runnings bobsleigh team.

The 6ft 4in Young, 23, has time on his side, though his route to success is simply amazing. Nordic is the Cinderella discipline of British skiing, and not funded by UK Sport. His coach is his father, Roy, who confesses the job is not very different from the training officer role he used to fill at Aberdeen Council.

Andrew was on skis before his second birthday. Mum and dad skied at the Lecht, but got fed up queuing for ages for a two-minute run. "So we started doing cross-country with the whole family," says Roy.

Three skiers from the Huntly Nordic Ski Club: Andrew Musgrave and his sister Posy, plus Young, have graduated to the Olympic team, with Roy as their coach.

Andrew has already been in two Winter Olympics, and was the youngest ever to compete in the World Cup, while still at school. "For half of my final year in Gordon, I was getting time off to ski, travelling round the world with my school books," said Andrew.

He has lived in Lillehammer since leaving school and is fluent in Norwegian. He has done two Open University modules, but will leave academia alone until his ski career is over.

He spends six months a year in Lillehammer, a month in Huntly, and the rest of the year in training camps and competing with his professional club, Synnfjell, bankrolled by local companies in the ski resort.

Yet standing on the podium last weekend has brought a new perspective. "I ski round in circles for a living. I definitely enjoy it, but I realise it's a bizarre thing to want to do. It's probably difficult for other people to understand. I just love racing and training.

"Friends have finished their degree, posting their graduation on Facebook, and are 'way ahead in living a normal life. They have jobs and are married. I'm nearly 24, still bumming about Europe doing ski races, and you start to wonder. Then I remember my experiences through sport, the places I've been – and I'm very grateful I have had that opportunity.

"And now that I have had that big result, it's all worth it – well worth the sacrifices."

Training is as brutal as anything in endurance athletics, boxing, judo, or cycling. "Although it is a sprint event, and over in two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half minutes, you need a huge endurance base," he says.

He recalls a six-hour endurance session at Hemsedaal In September: "two hours of roller skiing, two hours' running, then two hours' classic – continuous. When we started, the weather was absolutely miserable: four degrees and raining – true Scottish rain. After an hour, your waterproof jacket wasn't waterproof any more. All the clothes I had with me on the camp, I had on, but I was absolutely frozen. It's not really great to admit that I was pretty close to tears. The coach would drive along and pass drinks, give technical tips. Every time I saw the coach, I asked to get in the car. He kept saying 'No'. At the end of the session he told me that when I was in the semi final of a World Cup, I would remember this. And you do remember. It was absolutely grim, but you force yourself to keep going. And it obviously works."

Andrew was a keen rugby player, but concentrated on skiing after breaking an ankle at 16. He had already been a Scottish schools 800m track finalist, and swam well enough to qualify for the Scottish swimming championships. He was also in Scottish triathlon's talent identification junior squad.

But on skis he won the Austrian age-group title. On leaving school he took a year off and made the Olympic qualifying standard for Vancouver (14th, team sprint; 60th in the individual). In Sochi last year, he was 37th in the 15km classical competition.

"Until now, all my best results have been in freestyle, but the sprint in the Olympics is classic. Physically, I have the fitness to get on the podium. It's about developing the technique in that style. If I can do that, the Olympic final is a possibility. Six make the final, and if you are good enough to be in the final, you are possibly good enough to win it - but so is everyone else.

"You can break a pole, get on the wrong line, fail to get into someone's slipstream. Racing is so close, and so tight, but I think the final is a possibility."

Andrew spent Christmas at altitude, preparing for a World Cup race on New Year's day.

The Highland Institute of Sport is hugely supportive, "but compared to Norway, we are definitely operating on a shoe string. It's ridiculous. Our total budget, operating in the World Cup, is smaller than that of area teams in Norway who are in the Norwegian and Scandinavian Cup."

If Andrew Young cracks the Olympic top 10, UK Sport may have to look again.