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Multiple Olympic gold medallist Joanna Rowsell Shand defends British Cycling

Joseph Delves
30 Mar 2017

Tough but fair, and not sexist – Rowsell Shand’s verdict on British Cycling

Multiple Olympic gold-winning track cyclist Joanna Rowsell Shand has spoken out in defence of British Cycling, describing life on the Performance Programme as 'tough but fair' and saying she had never felt the culture at the organisation was sexist.

Speaking to The Times recently after calling time on a career that saw her win Olympic gold in the women's team pursuit in successive Games in 2012 and 2016, Rowsell Shand used the opportunity to counter the claims of sexism and bullying that have been levelled at the organisation over the past few months.

With multiple national, European and World Championship titles to her name on top of her pair of Olympic golds, Rowsell Shand spent much of her career working with British Cycling at the Manchester velodrome, and pointed to her achievements as proof of British Cycling's commitment to women's cycling.

'It’s not my experience,' Rowsell Shand said when asked whether she felt the atmosphere at BC was sexist. 'I’ve come through the whole system and won two Olympic gold medals and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I’d experienced sexism.

'I felt my medal was worth the same to British Cycling as the men’s. It’s hard to comment on other squads and their experiences and I don’t want to discount other people’s claims but my experience was that my medal was worth as much as, say, Ed Clancy’s.'

Not all fun and games

'Elite sport is really tough. It’s not all fun and games. Everything we did on track was filmed and analysed, everything we did was scrutinised. And, if you’re having a bad day, it is there for everyone to see. It’s intense but everyone is doing it because they want to win. They’re not there to ride their bikes out in the sun.'

Describing life on the Performance Program as tough but always fair, Rowsell Shand expressed the opinion that the recent Parliamentary Select Committee investigation into the culture at the organisation had displayed a degree of bias by only inviting those with a pre-existing grievance against British Cycling to give evidence.

Given the harshly critical testimony of compatriots such as Victoria Pendleton, Nicole Cooke and Jess Varnish, Rowsell Shand said it was clear that some reform at British Cycling was needed, but added that she regretted not having contributed her opinions to UK Sport's independent investigation, which ran concurrently to the Government's Select Committee investigation.

Training for the Rio Olympics at the time, she said she had been unaware of the growing turmoil surrounding the issue.

Having now retired from the professional racing scene, Rowsell Shand intends to divide her time between studying for her physiology degree, commentating for the BBC and working for the charity Alopecia UK.

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