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Team GB athletes reveal challenges of 'competing while female'

Sarah Lindsay (left) and Chemmy Alcott (right) speak candidly about competing as women in the Winter Games on the latest episode of White Wine Question Time

Downhill skier Chemmy Alcott and speed skater Sarah Lindsay have spoken candidly about the realities of training and competing as women on Team GB. 

Chemmy Alcott, 36, competed as an alpine ski racer in downhill, super G, giant slalom, slalom and combined during the 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 Winter Games. Short track speed skater Sarah Lindsay was British Ladies champion for nine consecutive years, and competed in the Winter Games of 2002, 2006 and 2010. 

“And I was thinking, ‘This is wrong’, you know? You can be fast and female.”

“It was amazing how unconfident the girls were in themselves,” Alcott tells Kate Thornton on the latest episode of her podcast, White Wine Question Time, released March 8 to mark International Women’s Day. 

“They all carried themselves with the mannerisms of a guy. And, you know, cut their hair off short and walked like a dude because they thought that’s how they had to be to perform well at speed.

“And I was thinking, ‘This is wrong’, you know? You can be fast and female.”

Lindsay, who appears on the episode alongside Alcott and Heidi Range, admits she was “totally guilty of exactly what you’re talking about.” 

“We were 20 guys on my team, three girls. And the coaches were men, the management were guys and I would always wear baggy clothes and try to be [asexual].”


Asked if she felt pressured by her teammates and coaches to behave this way, Lindsay adds: “Oh no, absolutely: I did that to myself. You don’t want people to fancy you when you’re trying to focus on your sport. I never wanted that attention.”

Alcott says she felt privileged to train and compete in the era of former American World Cup alpine ski racer Lindsey Vonn, who she says paved the way for a new type of female athlete. 

“Lindsey Vonn [is] one of the biggest names in our sport, and she had the confidence to be the best and to wake up in the morning and put eyeliner on, and address her femininity in a positive way. So it was really strong that we came forward and [said]: be confident in who you are as a woman because it doesn’t dictate how fast you can ski from A to B. 

Alcott also admits that part of the pressure came from the agency she was signed to at the age of 12, who controlled her look in order to better arrange sponsors. 

“They said, ‘Right, you have to have long blonde hair. I had a hairdresser that I had to go to with them. I found that really tough, that they controlled that,” she says, before addressing the criticism she endured in the British media for modelling during her skiing career to help finance her training.

Hear the full episode above, or download it on iTunes or Spotify.