The Dutch cyclist Tom Dumoulin won Olympic silver in the time trial modality last Wednesday in Tokyo. The news would not be a surprise for a cyclist of his quality, if it were not for the fact that six months ago he announced his indefinite retirement from cycling to take care of his mental health, a topic that flies over the Olympic Games after the refusal of the gymnast Simone Biles to defend his Olympic title for the “inner demons” caused by the high pressure of the competition.
Tom Dumoulin is once again a happy man. Winning a silver medal at the Olympic Games, a priori, should always be a moment of happiness. Cases like those of Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka or Mariana Pajón previously, show, however, that the road is not always easy for an athlete. Not only physically, but also mentally. Tom Dumoulin has been no stranger to it.
“I have learned many lessons from the last two months. It has also been very enjoyable. I had a great time. And I am very happy that it paid off today with a silver medal, which is the best thing I could do today.” he told Reuters news agency on Wednesday, after winning his silver medal in the time trial at the Tokyo Olympics.
With the “last months” the Dutch cyclist refers to the period that has passed since January 23 of this year. That day, Dumoulin made a statement that shocked the entire cycling world. He was leaving the competition temporarily. His head couldn’t take it anymore.
Tom Dumoulin: “I forgot myself a little bit”
“The team and I decided yesterday that I take a leave with an unknown term of our beautiful sport. For too long I have felt great pressure to perform and I feel that I always want to do what is best for the team, for all the sponsors, the fans. , etc “, he announced that day on his Twitter profile.
In the process of staying on top of cycling, Tom Dumoulin stopped enjoying his sport. “In that process I forgot a little bit about myself. I forgot what I really want within this sport and with my future. Since I don’t have this clear answer for myself, I’m not really doing the best for the people that I am. surrounds, “he added.
The team and I decided yesterday that I take a leave with an unknown time frame from our beautiful sport.
For too long I feel a big pressure to perform and I feel that I always want to do the best for the team, for all the sponsors, the fans etc. (1/4)
– Tom Dumoulin (@tom_dumoulin) January 23, 2021
Ana Casares Polo, psychologist of the Burgos-BH professional cycling team, explains that “a high-performance cyclist in the end is a person who is putting his body and mind to the limit in situations of maximum effort at a particular level, but also in the face of exterior. There are commercial interests, there is an Olympiad and many groups. Many times the athlete loses that enjoyment for all that exterior environment that sometimes he does not know how to handle “.
Winner of the Giro d’Italia at 26
On May 28, 2017, the Dutch cyclist Tom Dumoulin entered the Duomo square in Milan on his bicycle. He did it dressed in the blue, white and red colors that distinguished him as the national time trial champion of his country. Head down and hands tightly grasping the triathlete’s handlebar. His long long-distance legs seemed to be no longer working on their pedals. That day, they had traveled 29.3 kilometers at an average of 52.6 km / h.
Dumoulin was second in goal behind Jos van Ende from the Netherlands, who expressed his happiness by hitting a bottle of water on the floor of the waiting room. It was no wonder, he had won the national champion on his land, who minutes later would be crowned champion of the 2017 Giro d’Italia ahead of Colombian Nairo Quintana. He had 31 seconds left.
“It’s crazy. I can’t describe it in words. I was very nervous from the beginning of the day. I had to stay calm but I couldn’t. In the end I had good legs and I went for it,” he declared to the organization’s microphones. after knowing the winner.
At 26, it was the highlight of Tom Dumoulin’s cycling career. In 2018 he was second in the Giro d’Italia and in the Tour de France. His talent was still intact despite not being able to win those great laps. They were, however, his last great moments until this past Wednesday, July 28.
An inexplicable performance slump
After his Giro, many wanted to see the new Miguel Indurain in him. The same plant on the bike, very powerful in the time trial and good enough in the mountains to hold up to the best. The year 2019, however, ends in blank and rumors begin to emerge.
In the 2020 Tour he is not at the expected level when it was expected that he would be the colider of the Jumbo-Visma with Primoz Roglic, ultimately second classified and last Wednesday, also, Olympic champion in time trial. In the Tour of Spain that year, the disappointment was greater: he abandoned in the eighth stage.
“The mix between urgency, anguish and speculation generates anguish, discomfort, irritability or hopelessness, the worst ingredients to cook a good sports performance that results in changes for the better: a new contract, an improvement in working conditions or a role leadership in the new team, “says Spanish sports psychologist Antonio Moreno.
Moreno criticizes that in sports, and especially in cycling, the specialty in which he works, solutions are only sought when the athlete already has problems. “But preventive policies are not followed to work on well-being, to seek well-being in their sports practice. Only when there are problems is when they turn to the psychologist.”
Casares Polo, however, affirms that in her team she does this follow-up work. “I consider myself a companion, a guide who puts light on things that the athlete already has many times inside. So, when the athlete discovers this, it is like a light bulb that lights up and it is much more motivating for them to see that they have a resource that they had not taken into account, “he asserts.
What does Tom Dumoulin want as a person?
In a video released by his team following the announcement of his hiatus, Dumoulin wondered. “What do I want? What does the Tom Dumoulin person want to do with his life right now? The question has been deep within me for months. I don’t have time to answer it because life as a professional cyclist goes on.” . Dumoulin implied that he no longer enjoyed what he was doing.
Enjoying, as Moreno affirms, is not “making a joke of what is done or being laughing, enjoying is something similar to the fact that all the deprivations, efforts and sacrifices that an athlete makes do not feel like obligations, but rather as parts of a process in which it is not difficult for you to do it, in which you feel rewarded for it, happy with how your progress is being, that is, you savor the fruit of your work “.
“However, when all this process is lived as a burden, that oppresses, that anguish, that depresses and you cannot share it with anyone, or you share it and you do not find understanding or professional help, we are talking about mental health, well-being”, Add. The Dutch cyclist spoke precisely of that, of feeling that a great weight had been lifted from him.
More and more athletes dare to talk about their mental health
The uproar created at the Tokyo Games around the mental health of American gymnast Simone Biles is just the latest of similar episodes, including that of Dumoulin. Also the Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka, who a little less than two months ago decided to withdraw from the French Open to focus on her internal well-being.
In May, in this same medium, Colombian BMX star Mariana Pajón also spoke about the importance of her “mental coach” and how necessary it is to talk about mental health in sport. “One must face it with maturity and height and say: I am feeling this, it is normal for me to feel it, I have the right, but I also deserve to feel better,” he said.
Mental health problems have always existed in sport, but the current visibility that athletes are giving it is also helping to break taboos. Ana Casares also points to another variant for this wave of athletes overwhelmed by mental pressure: the pandemic.
“It has even reached a point where the pandemic has had a lot to do with it because everything has been pushed to the limit, there is uncertainty, everything has been delayed for a year and emotional collapse is created.”
All of these athletes are said to be setting a new path in their respective disciplines. Its visibility, without a doubt, is an important mirror in which many future athletes will look at themselves in the future, and the case of Tom Dumoulin, an example that with the right help, the worst moments can be overcome.