Saturday, 6 March 2010

Venus on wheels: Nicole Begg

It'll be tricky getting your shorts on now...

One of the biggest frustrations for female sports stars is when a less successful but more attractive competitor gets all the attention and sponsorsip.

The classic example being the attractive (at least as far as tennis players went at the time) but not quite at the top, Anna Kournikova. Her huge sponsorship deals annoyed her fellow players. "Aesthetics and charisma are seen as more important than sporting performance and it won't change as long as the box office puts Kournikova ahead of Lindsay Davenport just because she is prettier," moaned, successful but less well known French player, Natalie Tauziat in 2000. At this point Kournikova was earning £7.5 million a year but less than £500,000 of that was from tennis winnings.

How frustrating then, to be a double world champion and attractive and still not get the sponsorship deals. This was the plight facing nineteen year old New Zealand in-line skater Nicole Begg a couple of years ago. Beggs solution was simple: pose for some pictures wearing her in-line skates and nothing else.

She had done them for a local skating magazine (encouraged, rather creepily, by her coach father Bill) and must have been delighted when the rather modest shots went into orbit and were picked up all around the world, including by Playboy. Begg told her local paper that she had stripped off to lift her international profile and that of her sport: "Lots of sports stars, both male and female, have done this sort of thing before."

Well it certainly worked, and she has a raft of sponsors now, including Kia cars. However, no doubt, as with Victoria Pendleton the cyclist, the "wimmin" in the sport will be bemoaning the fact that this is what it took to get her backing.

She now has five world titles, just missing out in the last World championships in China in October but still winning three bronzes following an injury plagued season.

In fact, looking at some pictures of in-line racing there seen to be quite a few attractive girls in the field. Maybe its something we should see at the Olympics as it seems to be a combination of normal speed skating and road cycling.

So well done Nicole for delivering on your master plan. In truth, she is cute rather than beautiful and her figure isn't exactly world class (unlike her skating) but it just goes to show that the male dominated world of sports sponsoship has such low expectations of the looks of female athletes that someone reasonably attractive can still make an impact based on a few slighly saucy pictures.

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