British swimming star made herself sick before weigh-ins

British Olympics swimming star made herself sick before weigh-ins as she reveals sport’s fat-shaming scandal backed by more than 100 swimmers incensed at bullying in the sport

  • Cassie Patten, who won a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics, was left ‘broken’
  • Swimmers have described a toxic atmosphere of obsession over their weight
  • Some had serious eating disorders such as bulimia and mental health issues 

A swimming star who competed for Team GB in the Olympics and won a bronze medal has described how she would make herself sick before weigh-ins – as she reveals the sport’s fat-shaming scandal backed by more than 100 swimmers.

Cassie Patten, who won a bronze medal in the 10,000m open water swim in Beijing, said she was left ‘broken’ by years of obsession over her weight and had to quit the sport at just 24.

It follows other young stars including Commonwealth Youth gold medallist Phoebe Lenderyou speaking out about eating disorders after being surrounded by the toxic atmosphere.

More than 100 swimmers have joined an online support group after Ms Lenderyou said she had battled bulimia for five years due to coaches’ obsession with her weight.

Swim England’s chief executive Jane Nickerson today said she is ‘truly sorry’ to those athletes who have endured negative experiences including abuse and bullying in the sport.

Cassie Patten won a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the 10,000m open water swimming event

Phoebe Lenderyou, who won gold medals at European and Commonwealth junior events, quit swimming and said it was years before she could put on a swimming costume again

Former swimmers have previously reported being fat-shamed, weighed multiple times in training sessions in public, being allowed to train with injuries and ‘relentless’ bullying by coaches.

The scandal follows allegations of similar issues in British gymnastics, highlighted by Ellie Downie. 

Ms Patten suffered from disordered eating after years of negative comments by coaches.

She told the BBC: ‘I’d make myself sick, not drink anything the night before, I’d be going to the toilet several times before my weigh-ins; anything to get the lowest possible number on the scales.’

Ms Patten quit the sport in 2011 with a shoulder injury.

‘I was broken, mentally a shell of who I was and a very unhappy person. I hated swimming, I couldn’t put on a swimming costume for years.

‘I’ve spent years getting over it and working on my relationship with food.’

Phoebe Lenderyou also quit the sport as a young swimmer after being ‘mentally ruined’ and facing a battle with bulimia and a binge-eating condition.

She described being pulled aside by coaches who would point at parts of her body where they claimed she had gained weight. 

‘I was so lonely and very, very sad – I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening and I just felt completely worthless,’ she said. 

‘There was no way I could show any weakness so I just hid it.’ 

Phoebe Lenderyou (pictured) described being pulled aside by coaches who would point at parts of her body where they claimed she had gained weight

Ms Patten described making herself throw up before humiliating public weigh-ins (Pictured: On the podium in Beijing)

British Gymnastics hit by abuse claims

Olympic gymnast Ellie Downie exposed allegations of abuse and toxic bullying after she quit the sport aged 23.

She revealed coaches sat on her to stretch her, searched her bag for food when she was just ten years old, and dropped her from the British team for speaking out over abuse.

Downie said: ‘We were definitely sat on by coaches for stretching reasons.

‘If you were needing to have your hamstrings stretched a coach would sit on your back’.

Referring to the diet culture in the sport, she added: ‘I’ve definitely had my bag searched for food.’

‘It all happens when you’re so young. The first time it happened to me I was on a training camp when I was like ten [years old] and they searched your bags for food to make sure you’ve not brought any other food with you.’

‘Everyone just kind of gets brainwashed. 

‘We actually got told by coaches that you couldn’t take food abroad and me and my sister genuinely thought that for years.’

Her sister Rebecca Downie, 31, still competes in the sport.

Ms Lenderyou told the BBC the bullying was so severe it warped swimmers’ relationships with all types of food.

‘You’d be consumed with guilt – you felt that if you’d eaten a treat it had stopped you getting to where you wanted to be.’

She described having a ‘food obsession’ which has taken her years to overcome.

Ms Lenderyou described swimmers routinely starving themselves before humiliating public weigh-ins and one incident in which the team was given a chocolate cake – only to be told by coaches they had all ‘failed’ their test as they had eaten it. 

Nickerson was speaking to mark the launch of the organisation’s new safeguarding and welfare policy, ‘Heart of Aquatics’, which it hopes will ensure a positive culture.

A number of swimmers have recently spoken out about incidents of ‘fat-shaming’ that led to weight-loss issues and fears that speaking out would lead to them being kicked off their teams.

Chief Executive Ms Nickerson said: ‘Recent experiences across society and within our sports have shown in painful detail exactly why Heart of Aquatics is needed.

‘We have a zero tolerance approach to poor behaviour but we have to be open and recognise that sadly not everyone has had the positive experience we would expect from participation in our sports.

‘For that I am truly sorry.

‘If we are to be successful in this cultural change journey then we need everyone in aquatics, in any role at any level, to commit to collectively doing everything we possibly can to deliver the positive, safe, welcoming environment and culture that we all want to see.

‘That change must start with us and everyone at Swim England is committed to playing our role in making this a success for the benefit of everyone.’

Swim England says as part of the new programme it will listen to the experiences of those involved at every level of the sport in order to take ‘proactive formative action’ where appropriate.

It will also refer to independent experts in order to ensure the continued successful delivery of the programme, in order that the organisation can continue to evolve and improve.

For further information and sources of support for eating disorders in the UK, visit

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