Jess Varnish has spoken for the first time since an internal British Cycling investigation upheld that former Technical Director Shane Sutton had used inappropriate and discriminatory language while managing the Great Britain team.
After she was dropped from British Cycling's Olympic programme in the spring, Varnish spoke out the culture inside the team, saying that Sutton had told her that she should "move on and go and have a baby."
Sutton has always denied using that phrase and has said he will appeal the verdict of the British Cycling investigation. A second, more detailed investigation, ordered by UK Sport, is due to report later this month.
Speaking to the Daily Mail newspaper, where Varnish first revealed her accusations against Sutton, she brushed off attacks on social media and reiterated claims that there was a corrosive culture at British Cycling.
Immediately after the verdict Sutton's wife Abbie Sutton tweeted: 'Two words spring to mind when the word liar is used… Jess Varnish.' The tweet has since been deleted. Some athletes have defended Sutton while others backed up Varnish's accusations.
"They're allowed their opinion but the investigation has answered that," Varnish told the Daily Mail. "Shane's wife was very upset and that's why she wanted to call me a liar. I've had lots of things said on social media but I don't really find it that hurtful.
"Obviously I know the truth, everyone around me knows the truth and in this investigation the truth has come out and that speaks for itself. Before the investigation it was harder, but now I've been backed up by that it's just an absolute relief."
Before the conclusion of the investigation, Sutton often gave his case in interviews with the media and still denies he ever “overstepped the mark with Jess Varnish or any other athlete." He is now considering a return to coaching, refusing to rule out a return to British Cycling if he is eventually exonerated or perhaps a position with Cycling Australia. He has also been in talks with close friend Dave Brailsford at Team Sky.
"I kept quiet whereas other parties didn't. It was hard for me to see him saying he was going to get his job back because I wondered if he knew something I didn't," Varnish told the Daily Mail.
"I stick by everything I said. Obviously the comments made to me by Shane, they are sexist, you wouldn't say it to a guy, to go have a family, to have a baby. I don't want to throw words around but it is what it is."
Varnish believes she was dropped from the Great Britain squad for challenging the status quo and speaking out, but does not regret highlighting what she views as a corrosive culture at British Cycling.
"This isn't just me versus Shane," she said. "Everyone at British Cycling was given the opportunity to speak and give their evidence. I took the first step and it wasn't easy standing on my own but now it's not just me. I've got the backing of many people who went forward to that investigation."
Varnish said she had to speak out and go public with her complaint because a line was crossed.
"I had nobody to speak to and absolutely nowhere to go," she said. "It was me as an athlete trying to get my voice heard and that was the only way. I had sleepless nights thinking about who to contact to gain information and support. My voice wasn't able to be heard.
"You have to back yourself and what you believe in, even if it means you have to stand on your own as I have. That's the only reason the truth has come out.
"People might think, 'Why is she bothering', but it just gives people that feeling that they can make a change rather than sitting in the background thinking. 'I can't do anything.'
"You have to be a strong person. You have to stand up for what's right. My dad used to say to me: 'Bad things happen when good people don't do anything,' and I'll always remember that."
Happy with life
Varnish is still based near Manchester with her partner and Great Britain BMX rider Liam Phillips. She is now studying sport and exercise nutrition at university and trains personal clients. While Phillips competed at the Rio Olympics, Varnish's mother spent time with her planning a post-racing career.
"We weren't here to dwell on things," Varnish said. "It was never, ever sit on the sofa and cry. It was, 'Let's find your A-Level results from however many years ago and get you a place at university, and you need to get a personal training qualification.' My mum was helping me organise my life and hopefully I'm coming out of the other side of it.
"I just feel I've got a new lease of life. I don't know what the future holds but I'm very happy with my life."
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