Helen Scott-Smith, a former ski racer turned journalist, discusses sexual abuse in Austrian skiing and her rape by a ski technician.
Born in 1958 to a British father and a Swiss mother, Helen Scott-Smith grew up in Geneva, where her father was a Lloyds Bank executive and her mother was a translator and copy editor for the World Health Organization. Helen attended a private school and took up skiing. As a teenager, she was among the top performers at school and at interregional races, just below the top echelons of the sport.
The British took notice of the 15-year-old downhill and giant slalom specialist after she stood out at an International Ski Federation (FIS) race in Wengen, Switzerland. They offered Helen the opportunity to train with the British team and to compete for a slot on the team for the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck. She accepted.
"We, the British women, had two Austrian coaches. We were at the British National Championships in Scotland, in Aviemore. I flew there alone as a 16-year-old from Geneva, which was itself an adventure.
There were no mobile phones back then, I had no credit card and just a couple of pounds in my pocket. My father had paid for my room in the team hotel in advance. I arrived late that evening and wanted to pick up the key to my room at the reception. I was told that one of our coaches already had the key.
The coach then came and said that the federation hadn't booked enough rooms but that I could sleep in his room. In his room! It was my room; my father had paid for it. I was truly shocked. Under no circumstances did I want to sleep in a room with a coach.
I moved heaven and earth and thankfully ended up in a bed and breakfast."
'They Called Us Fresh Meat'
As early as the 1970s, there were many Austrian coaches working abroad. Most were between 25 and 35 years of age, and they generally coached teams from smaller countries.
Britain is one of those small countries – at least in terms of skiing. Indeed, in skiing nations like Austria or Switzerland, someone like Helen Scott-Smith would never have made it onto the national team.
"The coaches divided up the 15- to 20-year-old girls among themselves. They called them 'fresh meat' and they helped themselves. That was really something the Austrian coaches would do.
It was an Austrian custom, a lack of culture. Of course, not all Austrian coaches were like that – but they weren't isolated cases either. There were quite a few.
Earlier, when I was still skiing in Switzerland with the Swiss coaches, everything was always just fine. But I was afraid of the Austrian coaches on the English team. One was always asking me, over and over again, if I wanted to go to dinner with him. Just you and me, he would say. It was clear that he wanted more than to just go eat.
You could always sense the power and desire. In autumn 1975, the coaches told me that I wouldn't be part of the Olympic team in Innsbruck. 'You didn't do everything that we wanted of you,' they said. And I knew what they meant by that."
'I Was Always Nice and Always Serious'
When Scott-Smith thinks back on that time, she sees a 16-year-old girl who had to assert herself over two men who were twice her age. She says she was lucky and was strong enough to not want to be on the team at any price. Others, she says, would have done, and did do, anything for a spot on the team. But she didn't, and she's proud of that.
"It was only years later that something happened to me, after I had become a journalist. And it was extremely brutal."
In 1987, Scott-Smith returned to the Ski World Cup. She had studied business and politics in Geneva, but never completed her degree. During her foray into the world of skiing, she had noticed that there were almost no female journalists at the World Cup.
She worked hard, did a good job and earned herself respect. She freelanced for newspapers, radio stations and TV broadcasters in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, moderated press conferences for race organizers (in places like Adelboden, Wengen, Kitzbühel and Schladming) and worked as a translator.
She got along particularly well with Austrian journalists, making friendships and establishing professional relationships that have endured. Scott-Smith's second sport is tennis, which she has reported on for Austrian public broadcaster ORF, most recently covering the ATP Masters in November 2017.
"I was always nice and always professional. I never ran around half-naked. Everyone knew that it was all business with me.
I spent a lot of time with ski technicians because you could always get the best background stories from them. Why certain racers got certain skis and how those skis had been prepared. Those are significant questions.
I went to places where other journalists didn't really care to go, which is how I came away with stories that were easy to sell."
By the early 1990s, Austria had been waiting over two decades for its next overall World Cup champion, the last having been delivered by Karl Schranz in 1970. The waiting would only come to an end with Hermann Maier's victory in 1998.
Scott-Smith had a lot to do. Sometimes, she would write pieces herself. At others, she would be at the finish line, thrusting her mobile phone into the hands of a racer so that a newsroom somewhere in Austria could get its quote.
'Who Would Have Believed Me?'
"When I was 34 years old, I was raped by a ski technician for an Austrian skier. The entourage stayed in Denver after the race in Aspen in March 1993 and we were all put up in the same hotel in order to catch a flight back to Europe the next day.
A number of the ski technicians went out to a table dance bar. Shortly after midnight, there was a knock on my hotel room door and I opened up. He attacked me; it didn't last longer than two or three minutes.
Why didn't I respond immediately by pressing charges against him? Who would have believed me? After all, I opened the door. That was my mistake. I was guilty. It hurt like hell and it still hurts today. Thank God I didn't get pregnant."
When she thinks back to that time, Scott-Smith says that she has less trouble with the rape than with the pressure she was exposed to when she was 16, 17 years old.
And although we asked several times to be sure, she has no problem coming forward with her story and being identified by name. It's her wish.
She says it's difficult for her to guess how her contacts in the skiing world will react. In the event of a negative reaction, she says she might turn her back on the world of skiing. In her journalism career, tennis has replaced skiing as the sport that is most important to her work.
'Many Have Gone Through a Lot More'
"I have wanted to tell my story for a long time, to rid myself of the burden. I just didn't want to be the first. It's good that Nicola Werdenigg gathered the courage to take the step. I know there are many women in skiing who have gone through a lot. Many have gone through a lot more than me." (By Fritz Neumann; Translated by Daryl Lindsey)