Skimpy kit is discouraging women from competing, Olympic bronze medallist Holly Bradshaw says
Before this summer, Holly Bradshaw assumed that winning an Olympic medal would be the pinnacle of her career. She was the first ever Team GB athlete to step up onto the podium in the pole vault but ha
Before this summer, Holly Bradshaw assumed that winning an Olympic medal would be the pinnacle of her career.
She was the first ever Team GB athlete to step up onto the podium in the pole vault but has since decided she has a much higher bar to reach - pushing back against women's sports simply expecting athletes to wear skimpy kit.
She has had to fight against it herself and now realises that it is a far wider problem for women and girls across different sports.
The 29-year-old told Sky News that a kind of "terror" descended on her when she was told before the Olympic Games that the only kit options available to her would force her to compete with her stomach or upper thighs on display.
"It was crop top, knickers, shorts, a bikini onesie and I just (felt)… terror… I can't wear this, there is no way I can go to an Olympic Games and feel comfortable wearing any of this.
"It was just a bit of panic really and I just said to them 'is there nothing else I can wear?'
"It was a horrible feeling, I was like sick to my stomach."
Eventually, after negotiating, she was cleared to compete in a customised rowing outfit that was much closer to the "onesie" she normally vaults in.
Ever since she was abused for the way she looked as a teenager, Holly has competed in a more modest kit rather than the crop tops worn by many other pole vaulters.
In her home gym in her garage in Loughborough, Holly told Sky News: "When I was 18, 19, 20 I had a bit of puppy fat and I was thrust into the limelight, I think I had only been doing the sport four years.
"I would see people on TV wearing a crop top and shorts and well that's the outfit you wear when you do athletics.
"I got criticised massively on social media for having puppy fat - I looked unathletic - someone actually said 'How fit is Holly Bradshaw? #saidnooneever'.
"It was just really hurtful as like an 18, 19-year-old kid.
"So I actively went out of my way to cover up as much as I can and for me covering up my stomach and having long shorts it is important to me and I shouldn't have to feel like that but that is just because of what I have experienced as a youngster and I am a bit scarred now."
Competing in her customised kit in Tokyo she won bronze, but Holly believes it simply wouldn't have happened, and she may not have even competed if she hadn't spoken up.
She said: "You look at athletes out there who have got really nice bodies but you assume that they want to show that off - but actually even if I had a really toned stomach and looked great I don't want to go on national TV wearing a bikini and I'm sure a lot of women feel like that.
"I think people around the country and maybe even the world thought we had a choice - actually no - we are given very little options as what we can wear and we just almost go along with it like we don't have a say."
Since speaking about the problem, Holly has been deluged with messages from women and girls saying that they too had a big problem with the expectation to compete in revealing outfits.
"Young female athletes who said to me 'I have dropped out of athletics because I saw people wearing crop tops and knickers and I didn't want to'… that to me is heartbreaking," she said.
In pole vaulting, there is no sporting advantage for athletes who choose to wear crop top and knickers or tight shorts over a more modest outfit.
"I dread to think how many women are out there and feel uncomfortable with what they wear but they just have no options and some people don't feel comfortable speaking out," Holly said.
"I think the commercialisation of women in sport is a little bit of an issue.
"Unfortunately, if you are wearing less on social media you have more followers, that is more attractive to commercial sponsors and I totally get that the more sponsors - the more reach, but that really is damaging young athletes just trying to get into sport.
"I honestly think if I was a young athlete in today's society I wonder if I would even be in the sport because I would feel so uncomfortable, especially when I was young, wearing a crop top and having people comment constantly on how I look and how different I look compared to everyone else.
"It is demoralising and it is really hurtful and harmful."
The Commonwealth Games have already been in touch with Holly to say they want to work with her to ensure athletes don't have to face the same dilemma at the Games in Birmingham next summer. But progress with the major kit manufacturers and sports governing bodies is, she believes, too slow.
"Sport is such a powerful thing for a young girl - sport has been my life since I was four-years-old and I would hate for someone to be me back then and then be thrown away - cast out of the sport - because of such a small issue of what you wear," she said.
"I would really like this to be my legacy. I would just like to try and change things."
A spokesperson for the British Olympic Association told Sky News: "Holly raises an important issue and one we and adidas were only too happy to resolve for her on a personal level - we would do this for any athlete.
"We kit out several hundred athletes at the Games and personal choice is important. Along with adidas we aim to provide kit that meets high-performance needs and is comfortable and appropriate for the athlete.
"We will continue to work with adidas to make sure we have as wide a range of choices available as possible based on individuals' needs."