Former Alpine skier Sophia Papamichalopoulos represented Cyprus at the Olympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010 and has since transitioned into a career in medicine, while remaining close to the Olympic Movement. Here, the 27-year-old reflects on her experience working at the Athlete365 Space in PyeongChang, and how it has helped to boost her confidence as she moves into a new work environment.

 My path to the Games

Sport has always played a big role in my life and I was fortunate enough to have parents who encouraged me to compete from a young age. I started skiing when I was four years old and have competed at national level in skiing, sailing and tennis, but later on I decided to focus on Alpine skiing – the sport I fell in love with.

At 16, when I won my first international race and ranked in the top 25 at the European Youth Olympic Festival, I started to dream big about the Olympic Winter Games.

When I finished school, I was granted an Olympic Solidarity Scholarship, which enabled me to return to training and competing, and finally led to my qualification for the Games.

 Career transition

Shortly after Vancouver 2010, I knew I wanted to pursue a different career; partly because I knew how hard it would be to continue as an athlete, partly because medicine was a field that I was always interested in. It was time for a new challenge.

It was a love of working with people combined with a fascination of the human body and its nature that led me to begin studying medicine.

While I knew it was going to be challenging to pursue a career in this field after retiring as an athlete, it’s in my character to take on new challenges and open myself to fresh opportunities. This is also one of the reasons I took on the role at the Athlete365 Space in PyeongChang.

A new role in PyeongChang

My motivation to take on the role was of course my passion for sport and the Olympic Movement, but it was also very personal.

I have struggled in situations as an athlete – for example, with gender inequality – where I hoped for more support and for my voice to be heard. I don’t want athletes today to feel the same. We need to work towards a future where athletes’ voices are heard and taken into account at all levels, so that they can receive the support they need. Working at the Athlete365 Space presented me with the opportunity to help spread that message.

I worked as part of a team to operate and manage the Athlete365 Space, in both Olympic Villages. Our aim was to engage with athletes and officials in order to promote and raise awareness around different topics, such as the Athlete365 online platform, the IOC Athletes’ Commission (AC) and the election of new AC members. I helped to promote projects that support athletes in all stages of their careers, such as the Athlete Learning Gateway and the Athlete Charter.

I also had the opportunity to share my story – how I benefited from the Olympic Solidarity Scholarship and how I transitioned into a new career. I hoped I would inspire some of the young athletes and show them that their possibilities are endless. If I can do it, they can too.

Gaining invaluable experience

It was definitely challenging to find ways to engage with such a diverse range of personalities, and to approach complete strangers while juggling between different languages. But through my experience in PyeongChang I have worked on my skills in speaking and relating to people, which will be invaluable to me in interacting with patients in the future.

As part of our training we received an excellent workshop on communication skills – speaking, gesturing and pitching – and this will definitely help with my confidence in my future work environment.

I also recognised how my experience as an athlete has equipped me with such qualities as resilience and pushing myself to secure the best outcome, no matter what.

I would definitely recommend my experience at the Athlete365 Space to other athletes, especially to someone who is passionate about increasing support for athletes.

You experience the Games from a different perspective. I’ve relished meeting and creating a network of extraordinary and inspiring people who all share the same passion for sport. Engaging with and hearing their stories has been both touching and thought-provoking.