If the Olympic spirit is all about the taking part rather than the winning, no one deserves one last shot at glory more than Britain’s leading downhill skier. At the ripe old age of 31, Chemmy Alcott is heading to the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month, against the odds.
It will be her fourth and final Winter Olympics and in many ways she deserves a medal just for getting there. First, she broke her neck skiing at the age of 12, then three years ago she suffered a horrific broken tibia and fibula of her right leg while training in Canada. Worse was to come.
During a BBC interview she was asked how she felt about UK Sport withdrawing her funding. “That was worse than the crash because it was the first I’d heard of it,” she says without bitterness. “I was eighth in the world so I was angry at the time. But I quickly realised negativity would get me nowhere, so I set about finding sponsors and raising funding.”
Alcott remortgaged her home and hit the phones, cold-calling businesses to seek sponsorship. “I’ve also had to do after-dinner speaking and I’ve held fundraising ‘Question of Sport’ evenings,” she laughs. “People judged me for going to red-carpet events when I was injured, but that’s where I could meet people who were able to support me.”
Did the pin-up girl of British skiing ever consider bringing out her own calendar? “No,” she laughs, “I want people to take me seriously.”
One bunch who certainly take her seriously are the Norweigans, who have allowed her to train with them, for £50,000 per year.
“It sounds a lot, but it covers the cost of my coach, technician, hotels, travel, food and lift passes. If I did it alone it would cost £250,000. Besides, the Norwegian girls are great to be around. There’s so much camaraderie between us that I’ve been helping out with their coaching.”
Despite another leg fracture last August, Alcott has made a remarkable recovery. “I’ll always have pain,” she admits. “But it’s not surprising seeing as I’ve got a metal nail all the way down my bone marrow from my knee to my ankle, with four screws holding it in place. But so long as I can ski fast, I can put up with it.”
The irony of having to pay to put her body on the line for her country isn’t lost on Alcott: “It does seem mad, but the support I’ve received from sponsors has given me renewed faith. The fact that people from all walks of life believe in me is really humbling and that’s what gives me the drive to push myself harder. “I vowed four years ago when I finished 11th at the Olympics in Vancouver that I would be faster and that’s still the aim. It’s a massive challenge, but if it was easy there’d be no satisfaction in achievement.” Spoken like a true Olympian.
Ski Sunday: Sunday 5:15pm, BBC2
Caxton FX sponsors Chemmy Alcott