Jess Varnish has been locked in a battle of words with British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton and coach Iain Dryer since she criticised the governing body following the World Championships.
Varnish competed in the Team Sprint at the World Championships, riding with Katy Marchant at Lee Valley Velodrome in March. The performance was not enough to secure them a qualifying place at the Rio Olympics, as they needed to finish two places up on the French Team.
“There are things going on in British Cycling that are wrong.”
Disappointed with the result, Varnish criticised the BC set up soon after – saying: “We have been basically playing catch up through bad decisions and bad luck. How many more times can I keep putting my life on hold, making these choices for my career, if it’s not going to pay off, through no fault of our own?”
Sutton replied plainly: “This programme is about taking ownership and looking at the group, they’ve collectively not qualified. They’ve not been good enough.”
The battle appeared to be over, until news broke that Varnish had been dropped from the programme. The 25-year-old, who missed out on a medal at the 2012 Olympic games after she and Victoria Pendleton were disqualified, was told the decision was made on the grounds of her performance.
Sutton commented: “Since her gold medal at the London World Cup in 2012, Jess had not made the necessary gains in performance compared to the rest of the world. The decision was based on a projection of medal competitiveness at Olympic Games level. We wish Jess the best of luck in the next stage of her career.”
The contract was up for review, but Varnish questioned statements that her performances didn’t justify a continued place on the programme. She told the Daily Mail: “Being on an elite programme you’d hope if you weren’t improving you’d be told straight away that you need to hit these targets, otherwise your place in the programme is in jeopardy. But I had nothing.”
Varnish says she then asked for the data as a form of evidence, saying: “It’s my data, and I felt I should be entitled to that. I contacted members of staff to collect it but before I could get any, Shane phoned me and said, “How dare I call his staff” for my information. A meeting we had scheduled to further explain why my contract hadn’t been renewed was cancelled.”
“Shane said that I should just move on and go and have a baby.”
Following the disappointment, when Varnish returned to the velodrome to collect personal belongings, she claims she bumped into Sutton again – where she received the final blow: “I saw Shane and Iain and asked if I could have some of the information. They couldn’t give it to me and said I’d been on the programme too long, that I was too old at the age of 25. Shane said that I should just move on and go and have a baby.”
In addition to these comments, Varnish also claims she’s been criticised in the past for her figure, stating: “Other than it being hugely sexist, my boyfriend is about to compete at the Olympics for Shane’s team. I’ve got a list as long as my arm about comments I’ve had about my figure and it’s not right.”
One such comment was that her “ass was too big” – Varnish claims she was told: “with an ass like mine I couldn’t change position within the team sprint”. It basically implies the stronger woman has to go in “man one” position because I’m quite glute dominant, shall we say.” There’s nothing wrong with being glute dominant – but the words could have been better chosen.
Varnish also claimed that the atmosphere within the programme was “wrong” and that both she and Victoria Pendleton has been called ‘bullies’ in the past, saying: “There are things going on in British Cycling that are wrong.”
British Cycling have said they are investigating the claims made by Jess Varnish.