Chemmy Alcott: ‘I would love a Hollywood ending in Sochi’

Broken bones and funding problems have not stopped the alpine skier from making it to her fourth Olympics in Sochi

Chemmy Alcott sits on the floor in the front room of her cottage in Hampton Court and, as the rain lashes down outside on a filthy night, she returns to a moment which still helps her find a way out of darkness and fear. Her fourth winter Olympics start a month on Wednesday in Sochi and it seems fitting that the alpine skier, who is recovering from a broken leg incurred during downhill racing, should pick out a defining point in forging her steely perspective from Turin in 2006.

Then, in her second Olympics, Alcott woke to an ominously murky morning. She could taste the fear and the hurtling threat of, as she says casually, "throwing yourself down the side of a mountain." Alcott pulls up the compression sock on her right leg, which she broke last August in an accident much less severe than the compound fracture she suffered in December 2010, and remembers the conditions she faced at the Turin Olympics.

"There was really bad light that day," she says, recalling the 2006 downhill race, "and there had been lots of stoppages because of crashes. Loads of girls were crying with nerves and fear. They were about to throw themselves down this mountain. My coach said: 'Chemmy, you can choose your destiny. You can choose whether you're going to be scared or whether you're going to be fast today."

Alcott chose to be fast and, in the best race of her difficult Olympic career, held onto the silver medal position for a long time. "That just shows how mental it is," Alcott says. "We all have very good ability but it's about your mentality in the start gate. I eventually finished 11th but I definitely outskied myself that day. That same coach also said to me: 'Imagine you're on a horse and you let the reins go.' That just clicked for me and I was so fast after that. It's simple – and it's my choice."

At 31, Alcott is about to race in her last Olympics. The dangers of skiing have been made obvious again by Michael Schumacher's accident in France. The former world motor racing champion remains in an induced coma – but a small measure of hope can be found in the way in which a professional skier like Alcott has overcome so many bad injuries. She has even broken her neck before and remains defiantly positive about her sport. Yet her obvious intelligence in the wake of some horrific crashes must surely force her to reconsider an apparently fearless mentality? She shakes her head.

"I've recently realised I'm a control freak. How can you be a control freak and a downhill racer? But it's like that quote from my coach. I am in control of my destiny. It's down to me how fast I want to go and how hard I want to push it. If I'm going to ski safe I'm not going to get into the top 30. When I go really, really hard and push myself to my limit that's when the success will come. I've also attacked the hardest thing an athlete ever has to face – and that's facing your demons on the very hill that nearly ended your career."

Alcott remembers the crash at Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada, three years ago when she broke her tibia and fibula and the shattered bones jutted from her skin. "You just go into shock," she says quietly. Alcott did not race again for 23 months while she pushed herself hard in rehabilitation. "There were so many goals. I bought German lessons and a new guitar, which I wanted to learn to play. But ou're too busy plugging yourself into machines when you're injured. I've got a very good personality for goal-setting."

Fate seemed to mock Alcott's liking for control when her first downhill race after that injury was at Lake Louise exactly two years later. "In December 2012 I went back to the same mountain where I had crashed so badly. I did it in front of the whole world and didn't even inspect the jump because I said, 'I've done this 69 times perfectly and the 70th time I crashed.' I went for it."

Alcott jumps to her feet and finds a framed photograph on the other side of the room. "I love this," she says, bringing over a photograph which shows her flying through the air, her skis and body a picture of aerodynamic perfection. Attention fixes on the metal bolt and screws glittering behind the glass covering. Alcott explains that these are some of the 10 screws that initially held her smashed-up leg together. She has framed them, alongside the photo, as a metallic memento of all she endured.

"I've now got metal going the whole way down from my knee to my ankle. But this is probably the best moment of my career. It's the first time I did 'the jump' after my crash. Look at my positioning. It's the perfect form. That's why I used this Leonardo da Vinci quote…"

Alcott reads aloud Da Vinci's inscription at the bottom of the frame: "Once you've tasted flight you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."

Her eyes shine as she looks up. "I used to think I could be the best skier in the world, and that's why I started doing it. Now, with what I've been through, I think I'm here to show that you can fight through all adversity whether it's physical or financial – as long as you believe in yourself. So many more people understand me now whereas before I was just this downhill skier from London – which meant absolutely nothing to anyone."

Alcott laughs at the idea that an ordinary girl from Twickenham should have dreamt for so long of Olympic skiing glory. "Now I keep fighting back it's different," she says. "That's why at Lake Louise I celebrated more than Lindsey Vonn who actually won it much later. They postponed the race after my run because the fog was too bad."

Despite the adverse weather Alcott produced a thrilling performance. "I qualified for the [2014] Olympics in that race. But I didn't appreciate the magnitude until the end of the week when I went into the bathroom and had some time on my own. I had this text from Nick Fellows who is a big skiing commentator. He said I cannot believe the mental strength you've shown today, in those conditions. I started crying. It was the first time my brain kicked in that week. The rest of the time I had been on autopilot. I'll never face anything that tough again."

It is telling that, for Alcott, the only other moment which could equate to the ordeal of Lake Louise occurred in this very room. "I was sitting right here and it was eight days after my crash [in December 2010] when I heard my funding had been stopped. People said: 'Your crash must have been terrible.' I said: 'No, my darkest moment was hearing about my UK Sport funding stopping as a consequence.' I was ranked eighth in the world but obviously they didn't believe in me after my first big crash. Yes, I broke my neck but this was the first full season I was going to miss. They didn't believe I was going to do it again."

Alcott scrunches up her face when asked how she heard the catastrophic news. "The BBC came to my house and it popped up in an interview. No-one from UK Sport had contacted me when the BBC asked: 'How do you feel about UK Sport dropping you?' It was brutal. I cried. And the next day on TV it was me on every hour, crying. But a young guy saw the interview and told his dad. His dad ended up sponsoring me all through my rehab because he owns the Third Space gym in London and I had all my doctors there. If that clip hadn't been on the news he wouldn't have known."

How does Alcott feel now about the fact that the BBC, rather than her own governing body, British Ski and Snowboard, told her? "We don't have a big federation so there wasn't the communication avenue," she says with a magnanimous shrug. "But I'd never want another athlete hearing it that way. I've been treated phenomenally well by sponsors and the public. But if I think too much about the politics it would kill my passion."

Alcott chooses instead to praise her sponsors, like Caxton FX, a company which deals in foreign currency exchange, for helping her raise the £50,000 she needs to pay the Norwegian national skiing team in order to train with them. She and her fiancé, Dougie Crawford, the Scottish Alpine skier still hoping to qualify for the Olympics, face constant financial stress."It costs Dougie and I £110,000 to ski a year. That's why we have lodgers…"Their lodger has just flown down the stairs, heading off to watch football in the pub, on a rare night of normality at home for Alcott – who is only back for a three-day break.

It seems strange that a sportswoman who risks yet more serious injury, while preparing for her fourth Olympics, should have to pay for the right to compete – rather than be handsomely rewarded for her courage and dedication.

Alcott finds a typically positive spin on her crazy downhill battle. The financial struggle for her and Crawford had become so serious that they were forced to organize a fund-raising event last October. "In hindsight," she says, "if I hadn't broken my leg again in August I don't know how I would've organized the fund-raiser. My leg got better much faster than normal because I was sitting at the computer and cold-calling companies for hours every day. We raised about £34,000."

The need to fight to survive in the sport she loves has galvanized, rather than crushed, Alcott. "I know that if I get in front of the right person magic can happen. If you can convey that self-belief in a meeting it's really exciting."

It seems appropriate that Alcott plans to set up a female empowerment charity once she finally retires. But now, with Sochi looming, her mind is concentrated on improving the 11th position she achieved in both her last two Olympics.

"I've got the same massive desire I've always had – but the difference is that this is my last Olympics. I've got nothing to lose and everything to gain by going to my limit.

"I'd love a Hollywood ending but I won't know what that might be until I go really fast again. Skiing at the top level is incredibly competitive so doing better than I did in 2006 and 2010 would be phenomenal. At my best, and with luck on my side, I can do it. I think I deserve some luck after everything."

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