Sochi 2014: Chemmy Alcott - British skiing's 'bionic' woman

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter
Alcott on her 'freak' ski injuries

After 42 bone-breaks, four career-threatening operations and the withdrawal of funding, Chemmy Alcott could have been forgiven for turning her back on her beloved sport of skiing.

She has been dubbed the 'bionic woman' after a horrific double fracture in late 2010 left her needing a metal plate inserted into her right leg, while a further break hampered her comeback bid in August 2013.

Even the weather seemingly conspired against the skier on the eve of her World Cup racing return, with an event in Italy called off just days before the Team GB squad announcement.

The 31-year-old admits that attempting to qualify for the Sochi Winter Olympics was "one of the toughest challenges" of her life.

Alcott makes World Cup comeback in Austria

However, Alcott says she "never lost belief" and, after proving her fitness to selectors and being chosen for her fourth Olympics, she is not content with simply being part of the squad.

"I'm not going there just to make up the numbers," Alcott told BBC Sport.

"I feel like I deserve to be there and I'm good enough to be there and I want to play my role in the success of what I think will be a great Games for Team GB."

After easing through her first race in nearly a year in Austria - where she finished 91st last month - Alcott has made significant improvements.external-link

She came 41st in the downhill and then 23rd in the Super G event at the Cortina World Cup in Italy.

"My career since the Vancouver Olympics has been like a rollercoaster with a few more lows than highs, to be honest," she says.

"But I've had glimmers of greatness in training runs and then in the World Cup. That's given me confidence that I'm getting faster at the right time."

Chemmy Alcott
Alcott's 'rollercoaster' career - from her 2002 Olympic debut, to a career-threatening double-leg fracture in 2010 and making a successful return to skiing in time for the 2014 Sochi Olympics

Her emotions now are in stark contrast to those in early 2010, when she learned during an interview with the BBC that her funding support from the sport's governing body, British Ski and Snowboard, was being withdrawn.

"It was a real low point in my life," she reflects. "I felt like I was being stabbed in the back."

With the limited finance they did have available, the federation decided to back the British freestyle programme - containing the likes of James Woods, Katie Summerhayes and Billy Morgan, who all went on to claim World Cup medals leading into the Sochi Games.

"I've always wished them all the support in the world and think they are such a talented group," she said.

"It just would have been nice for Alpine skiers to have something as well."

While recovering from her first fractures, Alcott appeared in ITV's 'Dancing on Ice' show, something that some in the sport admitted concerns over.

However the skier herself feels that, without the exposure the programme brought, her subsequent injury rehabilitation and and even Olympic selection would not have been possible.

"It really did raise my profile and because of the show I have a very active Twitter account and when I do get injured I use it," she said.

"I've become very thick skinned with cold-calling and people putting the phone down not caring about Winter Olympic sports, but I contact anyone and everyone I think can help.

"I've had to be this way because I've got no-one else looking out for me and that's fine. I don't feel bitter, but I do owe a lot of people a lot of favours."

Ride 'dangerous' Sochi course with Bell

In October of last year, she and husband-to-be Dougie Crawford held a fundraiser which - aided by Olympic champions Amy Williams (skeleton) and Pete Reed (rowing) as well as singers Heidi Range and Chico - raised over £40,000.

"Chemmy is someone with true spirit and fight in her," Williams told BBC Sport.

"To have gone to the Olympics three times with all her injuries and still have that urge to want to go to a fourth is amazing and completely inspiring."

Crawford missed out on Olympic selection, but the fundraiser paid for Alcott to join the Norwegian team for crucial comeback training in December.

"I'll be paying those dues for many many years I think," said Alcott, who rented the a spare room in her Surrey home to bring in additional funds.

For the next few weeks, money is not a concern for the Twickenham-born skier, with the British Olympic Association (BOA) funding all Team GB athletes.

With that support, she achieved career-best Olympic finishes of 11th in both the 2010 Vancouver super-combined and the 2006 Turin downhill events and is optimistic that an improvement is possible at this year's Games.

"Obviously I've had really tough preparations over the last four years with all of these injuries, but I've committed over 10,000 hours for just a couple of minutes in Sochi to prove I'm better than in Vancouver," she said.

Alcott will need to draw on all of her experience to combat the extreme Sochi Downhill piste, which five-time Olympic medallist Bode Miller suggested "could kill" someone.

Alcott's extra training run on Sochi course

She finished 16th in the downhill element of the super-combined event on Monday - a run she was using as practice for Wednesday's main downhill competition.

"I'm really happy with the result," said the skier, who opted out of the slalom section of the super-combined event.

"There were a couple of turns up there that really challenged my leg, so I just had to muscle through them, know where my strengths are and charge it where I can."

After competing in the downhill on Wednesday, Alcott will end her Olympic career after racing in the Super-G on Saturday.