MANCHESTER, England — One of the key figures behind Britain’s successful Olympic cycling team resigned on Wednesday, soon after being suspended by the national governing body for allegedly making discriminatory remarks to riders.
Shane Sutton stepped down from his position as technical director at British Cycling, saying the furor around his suspension has “clearly become a distraction” as the team begins its final preparations for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Female cyclist Jess Varnish said last week in British newspaper The Daily Mail that Sutton made derogatory comments about her body shape and told her to “move on and have a baby” after she failed to qualify for this year’s Olympics.
In the same newspaper on Tuesday, para-cyclist Darren Kenny said he heard Sutton refer to members of the disability team in derogatory terms.
British Cycling said Sutton was the subject of an investigation because of “allegations of discrimination that have been reported in the press.” Sutton rejects the accusations but has resigned.
“I look forward to taking a full part in the review process so I can respond to the allegations in detail,” Sutton said in a statement released by British Cycling.
The body has already announced it will be undertaking an independent review into its performance programs.
Sutton, a 58-year-old Australian, is a respected coach who has been with the Britain squad since 2002. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in her honors list in 2010.
Under Sutton, Britain topped the cycling medal standings at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing after winning 14 medals. Britain won 12 medals in cycling at the London Olympics in 2012.
“Cycling is my passion and I have always worked to get the very best out of professional athletes,” Sutton said. “I am proud of what British Cycling has achieved and I am excited by the potential of the team for Rio. They will always have my full support.”
Speaking before accusations made by Kenny, Sutton denied making the comments about Varnish.
“Actually I’m embracing the opportunity to sit in front of the panel and give my view because I don’t think I’ve been heard properly from Day 1 of this,” Sutton told The Times newspaper. “I’ve had great support from everybody here, but at the end of the day it’s an allegation.”
Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton, who is now retired, told The Daily Telegraph that she never felt British Cycling gave her the same respect as her male teammates, and said she knows “exactly how miserable they made me.”