Olympic MTB champ Jenny Rissveds breaks contract to address mental health

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Reigning Olympic mountain-bike champion Jenny Rissveds and her Scott-SRAM team — the only pro team she’s ever known — have agreed to part ways so that she can focus on mental health issues rather than competition.

One of the biggest names in women’s mountain biking — with an Olympic title, as well as a rainbow jersey at the 2016 U23 World Championships and the 2015 U23 World Cup series title — the 23-year-old Swede terminated her contract with the team she has been a member of since 2014.

Rissveds made her decision last week and informed team manager Thomas Frischknecht, director of the Scott-SRAM team which also boasts Olympic and world champion Nino Schurter. Frischknecht stated that the “door will always be wide open” for her to return.

“After winning the Olympic Games in Rio 2016, Jenny Rissveds found herself in a completely new situation — one might say a new life entirely,” a Scott-SRAM team press release read. “A lot of things changed for her in a short period of time. Some things were positive, but some unfortunately were negative. Most notably the unfortunate situation of a disagreement with the Swedish Cycling Federation and losing both her grandfathers in a short period of time. As a result Jenny faced mental issues holding her back from racing for a good part of the 2017 race season. With the 2018 season starting soon, she has come to the conclusion that it is better for her to first fully recover and then think about a comeback as opposed to trying to fulfill obligations that she can’t keep up with. The result of this decision is a withdrawal from her contract with Scott-SRAM.”

Jenny Rissveds. 2016 Rio Olympics.
Jenny Rissveds, 2016 Olympic women’s cross-country champion in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Cor Vos.

Rissveds, the Swedish national champion, was kept off Sweden’s 2017 world championship squad due to a sponsorship issue; the Swedish federation demands that athletes wear equipment provided by its sponsors at European and world championship events. In this case, the Swedish federation insisted athletes wear equipment provided  by its sponsor, Swedish brand POC, although Rissveds is paid to wear Scott helmets and Oakley sunglasses. Compromises were offered, that Rissveds could wear POC at the European championships but not the world championships, but she was ultimately left of the worlds team.

Rissveds addressed her issues with the Swedish Cycling Federation in an August 2017 Instagram post, writing, “This has been an ongoing thing since February last year when my name got sold and contracts were unluckily signed above my head. I don’t wanna hang out anybody or throw shit on anybody, that’s not who I am. I’m the last one in this war who should excuse myself or apologize, but however I wanna apologize in advance to you who actually are innocent, but will get in trouble because of politics, people who are weak and people who are too proud to swallow their pride.

“Please, I beg you all out there to not throw shit at POC, UCI or anyone else who actually tried to solve the problem and who tried to help myself, my team and my Swedish riding colleagues out of this. It’s not about which products are the [aesthetically] nicest, it’s not about my team making money out of this, it’s not about the Swedish cycling federation in general and it’s not about me. This is about so much more… it’s fair to say I’m the one who lost the most the last one and a half year. I feel sad, I feel used and if it wouldn’t be for the people around me, who’s fighting day and night for my rights, I would have been deeply worried about my future. Either you take your part, you stay natural and watch it from the outside or you don’t give a shit about this whole mess.”

In an August 2017 interview with PinkBike, Frischknecht said the issue was much larger than Rissveds and POC, explaining that the industry supports trade teams first and foremost, and that bowing to sponsorship demands of national federations would only create a colossal mess for everyone.

“The sport as it exists right now works by the industry paying for the whole sport,” Frischknecht said. “It’s Scott, it’s SRAM, it’s Specialized, Trek, you name it. We are supporting cross country racing by putting the budgets together to send trade teams and athletes to World Cup races, and then the most important races, such as World Championships and the Olympics. For example, maybe Nino has to ride a Specialized bike because Swiss Cycling signed a deal with Specialized that requires all Swiss athletes that compete at the Olympics to ride a Specialized bike. So if we agree to Jenny riding in a POC helmet, it would be the beginning of the end. It could then continue to become a much larger problem.”

Frischknecht also pointed the finger squarely at one individual — Swedish Cycling marketing manager Anders Bromee.

“It’s actually not correct to talk bad of Swedish Cycling in general, it is basically only one person, Swedish Cycling marketing manager Anders Bromee, who has been terrorising Jenny for more than a year now,” Frischknecht said. “This has become a big, big issue so at this point, she would not feel comfortable to travel to [the 2017 world championships] with a team where everybody hates each other because of what happened. Right now she has zero trust and respect for Swedish Cycling. She does not feel she has been treated well enough to see how, in these circumstances, it would result in a good performance for her.”

In the team statement issued Thursday, Rissveds thanked her former team and said she hopes to return to racing.

“I am very thankful for the years I have had with Thomas and the Scott-SRAM team,” she said. “They have provided me with unique and vital support. Without Thomas and the team, I would have never done what I have been able to do on the bike over the last few years. I also want to thank Scott Sports for their unwavering support and belief in me, especially throughout the last year. I would love to stay a part of the team, but to be part of a team you need to contribute and unfortunately, I am simply not able to do so at the moment. It hasn’t been an easy decision, but I am convinced this is for the best for all parties involved and that this will provide me with the best conditions for coming back, better and stronger than ever.”

Frischknecht — who won the 2017 Cape Epic mixed category with Rissveds as a teammate — said that he believes Rissveds can recover from this setback, and that he hopes it’s again with his team.

“The whole mountain bike scene and in particular the Scott-SRAM Team is tremendously sad about what has happened to Jenny,” he said. “In order to get healthy again and to be free of any kind of obligations I not only respect Jenny’s decision, I believe it is the best way for Jenny to find her way back to a balanced life. I truly believe she will be back at some point and I hope that we can help her on her journey. Our team’s door will always be wide open for Jenny to come back whenever she wants to.”

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