Baring all does trick for undervalued skater

By Jarrod Booker

Being a world champion was not enough to get Nicole Begg noticed.

Even after being nominated for a Halberg Award, the Timaru teenager's impressive feats in inline speed skating created barely a ripple of interest.

So Ms Begg went ahead and did something she was sure would draw attention to her achievements and her sport - she got naked for the camera.

Now the 19-year-old is getting lots of attention, not only in New Zealand, but throughout the world.

"Most of the reactions have been mainly positive, but of course, when you bare all, there will be a small percentage of people that don't agree," Ms Begg told the Herald from her skating base in Switzerland.

A series of racy but "tasteful" shots featuring Ms Begg wearing only her skates were intended for an international skating publication.

The pictures have since been pounced on by media around the world and Ms Begg is now in hot demand as she pursues another world title this year.

Her bold move has landed her in newspaper spreads across Europe and on television and radio in the United States and South America.

Asian websites featuring her pictures have been overloaded because of the demand.

Ms Begg had no qualms about doing it for the attention.

"If inline speed skating were an Olympic sport or popular like rugby, we would be heroes and a household name," she said. "Instead we are not recognised and barely known by our own country."

Sparc (Sport and Recreation New Zealand) funds Ms Begg and has no issue with her sexy new image.

"It isn't the first time an athlete has done this and it won't be the last," said spokesman Ross Palmer.

"Inline skating has a high profile in Europe, but not in New Zealand, so it's not that surprising that Nicole would feel she has to do something unconventional to raise her profile. She's certainly succeeded."

Among those not so pleased with the pictures were members of Ms Begg's own family.

Her grandmother, Joyce Begg, did not appreciate seeing the racy image of her grand-daughter on the front page of her local newspaper in Timaru.

"To open it up and see it in the paper, it wasn't me," Mrs Begg said.

Some in New Zealand skating circles were also offended, including a club in Wellington that no longer wants to use Ms Begg as a role model for their children.

Skate New Zealand, which oversees skating sports in this country, did not want to comment on Ms Begg's pictures.

But her parents, Bill and Cheryl Begg, are proud of her and see no problem with people around the world ogling their daughter.

Mr Begg said, "We brought up our kids that they make their own decisions in life."

It was a "sad indictment" on New Zealand that his daughter had to do this to be recognised.

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