The New Zealand Cycling Federation announced that it will review the issue of athletes’ mental health after learning about the death of cyclist Olivia Podmore at the age of 24. His case broadens the debate on the mental health of athletes, an issue that generated repercussions during the Tokyo Olympics after the case of Simone Biles.
Podmore, who represented New Zealand at Rio 2016, was found dead at her home on August 9 under circumstances that have not been confirmed and are being investigated by law enforcement agencies.
According to the Reuters news agency, a spokesman for the New Zealand Police said that the police entity witnessed a sudden death at a property located in Waikato, north of New Zealand, around 4:00 a.m. on Monday.
We at Cycling New Zealand are deeply saddened with the sudden loss of our young cyclist Olivia Podmore.
Be kind to each other and take care of one another ❤️https://t.co/bN1RfXen1J
– Cycling New Zealand (@CyclingNZL) August 10, 2021
According to the Spanish newspaper ‘El País’, the athlete enjoyed the weekend with her partner, Olympic rowing champion Eddy Murray, and another friend in Queenstown.
“Anyone who had seen her in the last 72 hours could not think that this would happen,” Murray told the Spanish media.
Concern for the athlete’s mental health
However, a person close to the athlete, quoted by Reuters, expressed concern about Podmore’s mental health as sports officials noted that the cyclist had contacted athlete support services.
In social networks the cyclist, who in addition to representing the country in Rio 2016 participated in the Commonwealth Games 2018 – but was not part of the New Zealand team that competed in the recently completed Tokyo Games – expressed the difficulties she was going through.
“Sport is an incredible outlet for a lot of people. A very rewarding fight. The feeling when you win cannot be compared to any other (…) But the feelings when you lose, when you are not chosen or have qualified, when you are injured, when you do not meet the expectations of society, such as having a house, getting married, having children because you have tried to give everything for your sport, those feelings are also different ”, expressed the athlete in her networks.
Mental health, an increasingly visible issue in the world of sport
The Podmore case broadens the debate on the mental health of athletes, an issue that generated repercussions during the Tokyo Olympics after the case of Simone Biles, who decided to temporarily withdraw from competition due to mental problems. A taboo that Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka also echoed during the Roland Garros tennis tournament.
“There is a lot of talk about the mental health of athletes (…) Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have put it in the spotlight after their own personal difficulties. Olivia’s fight was the same and now we have one more statistic, “Murray added after Olivia’s death.
Podmore’s death has drawn criticism of the New Zealand Cycling Federation. In this sense, the cyclist Eddie Dawkins directly held Cycling New Zealand and High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) responsible for promoting high performance sports in the country and promoting its athletes around the world. Dawkins denounces that the athlete’s death was preventable.
“It is a damn shame, it is terrible that this has happened. My condolences to his family and friends. But I hope that, if something positive comes out of something like this, the athletes begin to defend themselves,” said the former cyclist in statements cited by ‘El País’.
Representatives of the New Zealand cycling federation have defended themselves against the signs indicating that each athlete has an accompaniment throughout their career. “We cannot say if we have made mistakes until we review this matter. Every athlete has many supporters throughout their career and Olivia was no different,” said Raelene Castle, spokeswoman for the New Zealand sports body.
Castle also indicated that he was saddened by the death of Podmore, whom he described as “a very happy, outgoing person, who lit up the room”, but did not hide his concern about the accusations of some athletes.
“We understand the frustrations and I do understand them. I want to make sure we learn from this (…) Supporting the athletes in our plans is not perfect. Olivia’s legacy has to be that we make improvements, perhaps we were not diligent in reviewing the training programs. help, “he said in his statements.
In the same vein, Jacques Landry, executive director of Cycling New Zealand, made his comments, who pointed out that, in addition to reviewing the possible mistakes that have been made, they will work on the well-being of the athletes.
“Right now, for us, it’s about focusing on the well-being of the people who are here and having to deal with this loss (…) There will be a time for us to review and if and see where we would have taken missteps or where not we acted correctly, “Landry said.
New Zealand Olympic Committee promises more emotional support to athletes
The news of Podmore’s death coincided with the return of part of the delegation that participated in Tokyo. On this, the New Zealand Olympic Committee reported that it will be providing support to athletes returning to the country.
“We are providing support for the well-being of your team members and the team as a whole when they return home from Tokyo,” the committee said in a statement.
The case of athletes who struggle with mental health problems has been more relevant since the American gymnast, Simone Biles, withdrew from some exercises on the grounds that she was mentally unfit to perform them without harming her team.
Previously, during the Roland Garros tennis tournament, the Japanese Naomi Osaka left the tournament, under threats of a fine, to put her mental health in order and exposed a series of pressures to which highly competitive athletes are subjected. At the time, Osaka, 23, received the endorsement of several of his colleagues.
With Reuters and local media