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May 8, 2019

Downhill all the way for Olympic skier Chemmy Alcot

Olympic skier Chemmy Alcott talks to Tony James about her career and life on the slopes

As Britain’s most famous and successful female Olympic ski-racer, glamorous media star and proud mother of two bouncing boys, it’s probably fair to say that most of Chemmy Alcott’s dreams have come true.

Nowadays, the dynamic 36-yearold, forced by injury to retire from international skiing, spends much of her time travelling the world, telling her story and inspiring the next generation to have the confidence, through sport, to create their own dreams - and do everything possible to achieve them.

“Sport changed my life,” Chemmy says. “A sport like skiracing teaches you so much. It’s not just about winning, but in order to progress you must learn about losing, suffer the consequences of injury and have the determination to pick yourself up and crack on.

“All the charities I’m involved with use sport to teach life-skills to youngsters and help protect and empower them.”

Despite retiring in 2014, Chemmy has continued to push herself to the limit, taking on massive challenges like the “World’s Toughest Ski Race” in Greenland, London’s 100-mile road race and climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. To date, her efforts have raised over £1 million for charity.

Married to former British champion downhill skier, Dougie Crawford, Chemmy is an active ambassador for several charities, including Right To Play - which provides children in need with educational games - Chemmy visits under-developed countries, raising money for conflict resolution and promoting sport and play to educate over a million children in some of the world’s poorest communities.

We caught up with Chemmy on the road in Italy on her way to host a ski event in Alagna, only weeks after the birth of her second son, Cooper. Her father-in-law was at the wheel and her mother-in-law had charge of Cooper and his two year-old brother Locki. “This is the time you can do it, when they’re little,” Chemmy says.

“I’m so lucky to have amazing family support. I always thought I had a tough job being a ski-racer but I didn’t know how tough life was until I became a mum. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done!”

Now a mainstay of BBC ski coverage, Chemmy is a main presenter of Ski Sunday and a key figure in the BBC commentary team at this year’s Pyeongchang winter Olympics. “I competed in the previous four and obviously it’s not the same, but I really enjoyed passing on my knowledge and feeling that I was still part of the Olympics.”

In 2012, while still an international ski-racer, she came fifth in ITV’s Dancing on Ice, shortly after an 80mph crash while training for a World Cup downhill race in Canada which left her with a 20cm-long pin in a badly fractured leg. The break was so bad that bone protruded into her ski boot.

Doctors weren’t too happy about her going on the ice, but Chemmy had her way. “I think I was the only competitor in the show who was less injured at the end than at the beginning,” she says.

“Taking part helped me recover and get back to ski-ing and I loved it, although it was hard work.”
Chimene Alcott - soon to become Chemmy - was named after Sophia Loren’s character in the 1961 film El Cid. She grew up in Twickeham, started skiing on a family holiday in France when she was 18 months old and first raced when she was three.

“I was competing properly when I was eight. I would ski six times a week on dry slopes. I raced every week growing up and that’s why I won the World Children’s Olympics at 11. For some of my peers it was their first race.

“My dad was a rugby player and mum’s a very good swimmer but she retired from competitions after an injury in her early 20s,” Chemmy says. “Her experiences helped me in my determination to get back to skiing even after I was badly injured because she taught me that you only get one chance to make a comeback.”

She learned that lesson early. At 11 she broke her neck - the first of nearly 50 injuries which dogged her career - and needed two vertebrae fused together. Undeterred, she spent the summer training in New Zealand, joined the British junior alpine team in 1994 and was named Sunday Times junior sportswoman of the year in 1995.

“For years I carried an X-ray of the injury so that if I was ever in an accident the doctors would know not to prise the vertebrae apart,” Chemmy says. “Somehow I seem to have lost it.”

A talented tennis-player, she was also into cars, still holds an MSA competition licence and has raced at Silverstone. “At 17, I took a week off to learn to drive. I practised for four days and passed my test on the fifth.

“I was very much a tomboy back then. I thought mum was going to give me the family’s old yellow Metro as a present. Instead, she sent me to the Lucie Clayton Charm Academy for a course on how to become a lady!”

Over the next few years, Chemmy became indisputably the best woman alpine ski-racer Britain had ever produced. At a time when UK skiers competing in the Winter Olympics was unusual to say the least, Chemmy defied the odds and pioneered a skiing movement that would inspire a new generation of young sportswomen.

She competed in all five disciplines - downhill, super G, giant slalom, slalom and combined - and took part in seven FIS World Championships and four Winter Olympics, was seven times British National Overall Champion and eight times Overall British Ladies Champion.

At her peak Chemmy finished 11th in the 2006 Turin Olympics, the best result for a British woman skier since 1968.

She is the country’s only female skier to ever win a run in a World Cup and reached a career high of eighth in the world.

Looking back, Chemmy regards her performance at the 2014 Russian winter Olympics, at Sochi, as her “proudest performance and greatest achievement.” She finished 19th in the downhill race after fighting her way back to fitness after a broken leg the previous August.

She said at the time: “After breaking my leg I knew it had to be all about the Olympics. I was no longer in a position to race in enough World Cups to improve my world ranking so I put all my eggs in one basket to do the Olympic thing. “In Sochi I threw myself down that mountain with a confidence I had managed to create from absolutely nothing.”

It was a sad day for British skiing when in March, 2014, Chemmy announced her retirement at 31 after the British Alpine Championships following a unique career spanning 23 years. Doctors had warned that further top-level skiing could seriously risk losing her leg.

“When you talk to past athletes and you ask them how they knew it was time to leave their sport, most of them say that if you’re honest with yourself you just know when the right time is.”

But retirement hardly describes Chemmy and Dougie’s busy lives, which include running CDC Performance clubs for youngsters to learn life skills through skiing and it probably won’t be all that long before their youngsters have their first sets of skis.

As Chemmy says: “With our genes, who knows how good they might be?”

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