Women’s cycling has come a long way since 1982 when, after winning every track championships on offer for women in Australia, Siân Mulholland decided she would compete in the World Championships in Leicester (England). At this time, women were not included in Australian teams for world championships on track or road so it was an ambitious goal and one that she was determined to reach at any cost.
It turned out to be at considerable cost, and her own. While Australian Cycling endorsed her participation and paid her entry fee, the rest was up to the young athlete.
“I had to have my own skinsuit made, purchase my own tracksuit, stitch on an Australian badge, organise and fund the entire trip myself. It was painfully obvious that women were the poor relations in Australian cycling and certainly not taken seriously.”
However her time in the flying 200m sprint – one of the 10 fastest in the world – was certainly taken seriously, and her participation in Leicester literally opened the floodgates: since that year, Australian women have competed at every Track Cycling World Championships and are now among the world’s leaders in the sport.
Paving the way
As a pioneering woman cyclist Siân Mulholland naturally started paving the way for those coming up behind her: “I set about changing the system from within, little by little.”
Which is why, at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Extraordinary Session in Monaco on December 9th, Siân Mulholland received the 2014 IOC Women and Sport Trophy for Oceania. Each year six trophies (one per continent and one at world level) are awarded to a person or organisation that has worked to develop, encourage and strengthen the participation of women and girls in physical and sports activities whether as athletes, coaches, administrators or media representatives.
Siân’s first reaction on hearing of this prestigious award was, “immense excitement but also satisfaction that my contribution to the development of women’s cycling over many years has finally been formally recognised.”
Negotiator, promoter, organiser and coach
The Australian’s commitment to progressing women’s cycling went far beyond setting an example on her bike. While leading the way with her own cycling career, she negotiated with clubs and promoters for the inclusion of women’s events at different open competitions on both the road and track, often undertaking their organisation. She would then personally contact female cyclists to promote the event and encourage them to race. Outside the coordination of events she has been involved in securing significant sponsorship, publicity and media coverage for women’s races. A qualified coach, she has also coordinated and conducted numerous camps for women at all levels: beginners, intermediate, Elite and Masters.
Twice voted Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Coach of the Year and inducted into the ACT Sport Hall of Fame in 2009, Siân continues to strive to improve the lot of women cyclists.
“I think women’s cycling is in much better shape these days but so much still needs to be done. More events, more publicity, more introductory programmes to get women involved in cycling generally – the more who ride, the greater the numbers likely to move across into racing.
“Women ride bikes as well as men, even if ultimately they may not do it at the same average speed. Women are just as clever at reading a race and working out strategies and these aspects should be promoted.
“Working towards equal prize money is a hugely important part of recognition,” she continues. “It is time for promoters to take the initiative and try to attract more women to events with decent reward, rather than demanding that sufficient women be willing to ride for negative return before they will come to the party on prize money.”
Looking to the future
Siân Mulholland is currently Manager/Directeur Sportif for an Australian National Road Series women’s team. A development squad is attached to the team to equip sub-elite women with the necessary race skills and tactical knowledge for entry into national competition. She also has other coaching projects in the pipeline across several competition categories, and continues to support local grass roots development programmes.
As part of her award, the IOC will offer CHF 30,000 sponsorship for a project that she submits for approval. She is not short of ideas and has formulated a plan for a project that she says will benefit Australia and the broader Oceania region: “It is not just for competitors,” says Siân. “I’ve discussed this with Cycling Australia and we’re quietly optimistic that this project will facilitate another step forward for women’s cycling in the region.”
When it comes to women’s cycling, Siân Mulholland hasn’t had her last word…
Shannon Galpin: Achievement Diploma
As part of the same IOC Women and Sport Awards, Shannon Galpin, of the United States, received an IOC Achievement Diploma. The qualified sports trainer is the founder and director of a charity Mountain2Mountain that is dedicated to women’s rights and empowerment in conflict zones. In 2013 she created the Strength in Numbers programme which empowers women through cycling and mountain biking. In particular she has worked with women cyclists in Afghanistan.
UCI President Brian Cookson was at the IOC presentation in Monaco: “I am extremely proud of these two women for their outstanding contribution to the participation of women and girls in cycling and for advocating greater opportunities for women to ride bikes and compete,” he said. “One of the UCI’s priorities is the development of women’s cycling, and it was therefore natural that the UCI wished to nominate Siân and Shannon for these awards. They have received fitting recognition for their achievements.”
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