BT Sport Action Woman of the Year: Downhill route takes Rachel Atherton to the top

Rio is now in the sights of World Cup champion who has capped a highly successful year by being named the first BT Sport Action Woman of the Year

Every athlete has bad days. “I went completely arse over end on these rocks. My bike flew into the crowd and hit some guy holding a baby carrier...” It’s just that some extreme sports have extremely bad days. See above. Or like the time Rachel Atherton, the world’s dominant female downhill mountain biker, dislocated her shoulder. And did it again. And again, etc, necessitating seven different surgeries. And then there was the occasion she was hit by a truck.

On the other hand, she has great days. Many of them in 2013 when she won the World Cup series and World Championships in a near- perfect performance of brute force and ballet precision, blowing away the opposition, taking 4 minutes 28 seconds to make a precipitous descent that a rambler might ponder for half a day, and even then resort to crampons and guy ropes.

For these uninhibited feats, Atherton has just been crowned the BTSport Action Woman of the Year, aptly receiving the trophy not in the television studio with Clare Balding but having just toppled off a testing bike in a laboratory. Warm-weather training has begun for another season and the 26-year-old athlete has new heights to climb. Retaining her World Championship is one of her ambitions. Eyeing the track for Rio may just be another.

In the meantime, she is thrilled by the recognition the sport she loves has just received. “It does make you feel bloody strong and fearless. You’re proud to do something that hard. To put your body through such a sport, you’ve got to have skill, power, technique and a pin-sharp mentality even when your knackered near the end of the race, when your heart’s up at 195 and the lactic acid’s burning.

“My weakness is always the last minute of a race. I’m very powerful but I struggle to keep it going. I know I have to go like an absolute animal at the top so I can afford to lose time and still win. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.” Mostly in 2013, it worked.

Crucial to her success has been the family unit. Specifically the two elder brothers she lives with in a miasma of testosterone and bike oil. Both are competitors, Dan in enduro and Gee as a world champion downhiller himself. They build tracks in Snowdonia National Park. For fun, they race motorbikes. From some descriptions, it sounds like Wuthering Heights on wheels.

For all the adventuring, they are professional enough to know this can be a dangerous sport. “We’ve had friends who have had injuries or been paralysed,” explained Atherton. “My brothers worry about me. We worry about each other. I hate watching them race. Then I remind myself they know what they’re doing.

“They worried about me a lot more when I was younger, I used to be a bit headstrong. I just wanted to win at all costs. I kept crashing, I had a lot of injuries and now I’ve learned where my limits are.”

These limits are dramatically illustrated when she tells stories about dislocating her shoulder in a crash in Austria and then demanding a random person in the crowd “just yank it!” to restore its position. Everyone refused except an equally DIY-happy fellow biker.

“I’ve done it for Gee. The boys have done it for me,” she said calmly. “We are, in many ways, quite brutal to one another. They take the mick out of me and when Gee gets above himself – he’s an elite male athlete so he can be very self-centred – Dan and I just tell him not to be such a dickhead and chill out.

“But I notice that if I’m around my brothers a lot, it’s such a male environment that suddenly I need to be a girl for a bit. For a woman, it’s an interesting balance to maintain.” Her boyfriend, Ben Reid, a fellow biker and team manager from Ireland, has to remind her to turn down the testosterone levels.

“He’s sometimes like: ‘You’ve been too fierce, too blunt with me.’  I’ve got to be careful that I give my feminine side a little run out. When you do such an adrenalin-pumping sport as this, being girlie and in love with someone refuels you. It allows you to express the completely opposite side of your character. Sometimes it’s a bit difficult. You have to be selfish as an athlete. But you can make it work if you compromise. You have to remember: it’s not just about you.”

Except now perhaps. Atherton plans to put her Action Woman victory to the purpose of introducing young women to the sport. She passionately believes in its ability to give youngsters a taste of adventure, the outdoors and a sense of their own budding strength.

For those concerned it may be a little extreme, travelling at 60kph is not compulsory, unless you’re pelting down the virtual cliff-face of a World Championship course. And for anyone still worrying about that battered baby carrier, good news – it was empty.

The winner of the inaugural BT Sport Action Woman Awards, in conjunction with The Independent, was announced last night on The Clare Balding Show, with England football international Natasha Dowie runner-up and World Triathlon Champion, Non Stanford, in third place. For full details, visit: www.btsport.com

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power