When I grow up I wanna be famous….. Role Models in Winter Sports

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

“I have dreamed my whole life about being a British Olympian”
(Lizzy Yarnold, 2014)


With the Sochi Games almost at a close as with London 2012 we enter a period of reflection, both in terms of markers of success but also in relation to the legacy that will been left. Without doubt this has been one of the most highly viewed Winter Games to date and with an estimated £30billion being spent by the Russian hosts this is not surprising. I have commented in previous postings on how many of the new events introduced at this games have without doubt added another dimension to the demographic who are tuning in to watch Winter sports and my observations of this games have led to me pondering a variety of different areas, from whether the participants at these games are more athletes or performers, my own sporting retirement, the causes of anxiety at altitude and more recently Heaney’s (2014) comments on the area of sporting role models.

London 2012

Two years ago when Olympics fever was on our back door step much was made of the legacy that would be left to the next generation, in fact one of the 5 key legacy promises that were made was ‘to inspire a generation of young people’ (UK parliament, 2012). The likes of Jessica Ennis-Hill and Chris Hoy were spearheading the enthusiasm of a nation and providing excellent role models to a raft of young people. Their success has directly seen an increase in investment into a range of different sports and predictions are that Rio 2016 will see the British team solidify their dominance on the medals table even more. So what will be the legacy left by the Sochi Winter Games?

Winter Sports

Rea’s opening blog post considered the fact that as a nation we are not a typical big player when it comes to Winter Sports as he said ‘history is not on our side’. As a nation we are without a strong winter sports heritage and role models are not so obvious to spot (2014). In a recent interview with the women’s sport trust Shelley Rudman discussed who her sporting role models were and cites Jane Tomlinson and Clare Lomas, thus illustrating that as a sporting female sometimes you have to step outside of your sport to find those who inspire you. Women have always have been playing catch up in the sports world, from the opportunities available, the media coverage and financial rewards, so it is interesting that three of our four medals to date have been won by women.

The Role of the Family

The concept of a role model within sport having to come from someone in the public eye is put to bed by Pinchbeck (2014) in her article looking at Olympic Parents. Her discussion on the instrumental role that the family plays in the development of a young person’s engagement in sport considers that it is parents who may be the primary role models for their children. So often it’s the case that a young boys memories of sport as a youngster is being taken to his first football match by his dad, and it is dad’s passion for watching the game that sparks the sons desire to play. This influence of family is echoed by Chemmy Alcott’s path into Skiing, she was introduced to the sport by her family from a very young age.

The Future’s Bright

The next generation should have a different experience, with the British women in particular leading the medals charge in Sochi. Jenny Jones secured Britain’s first Olympic medal at the games and for the men James Woods put in an impressive 5th place finish in the same event. Alcott at her 4th Olympics and 6 months after a possible career ending leg break did herself proud with a 19th place finish in the downhill. These athletes are demonstrating that even as a nation without a strong heritage and limited facilities anything is possible. Even more notable was Lizzy Yarnold’s performance – her dream of becoming an Olympian has come true in the most Hollywood fashion, from her integration in the Skeleton set up 5 years ago to her Gold Medal at this year’s Olympic Games. Just as Amy Williams was her role model she is now providing another very positive female role model for young people in winter sports. The Telegraph’s Judith Woods wrote in 2010 about Amy Williams, the 2010 Skeleton Gold Medal winner and how she was everything a female role model should be ‘personable, pretty, a PhD student and an Olympic Gold Medallist’. Williams, like Rudman and Yarnold, is still a very positive role model for young woman today, and in an age when female identity is becoming even more multifaceted they show you can have it all.

The legacy being left by these games isn’t just instilling a desire to become an Olympic athlete, I think they are illustrating, as I have previously mentioned, the positive gains that are to be made when you take up sport of any sort. Seeing the ‘cool’ persona of Slopestyler Woods, the supportive family of Jones, the enthusiastic supporters of Yarnold and the camaraderie of the Curlers is projecting the right image of sport to the next generation. A sentiment perfectly summed up by Rudman ‘I think it is really important that women understand from a young age that taking part in sport is really beneficial from both a health and general well-being perspective’ (2014). Without doubt the Sochi Winter Olympics have raised the profile of a number of minority sports and hopefully will lead to more young people strapping on skis, skating or even learning how to slide stones.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *