Where are our Olympians now?

The short answer is many are in quarantine, in Howard Springs, in the Northern Territory. The longer answer is they are doing more than just isolating, they are also accessing mental health and wellbeing services. Some athletes have come home on a high, and are asking what next? Some have hit an eerie unsettling silence, after the hype. Some underachieved, and are processing disappointments. Some know this is the last games, and are facing life after sport.

Mental wellbeing took a bigger profile in these games. US gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the competition at the last minute. News of her decision to withdraw generated more social interactions than Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey. Google searches related to mental health on the day Biles pulled out hit their highest peak in two months.

On the surface, the commentary was supportive of Biles. It’s OK to put your mental health first – was the common sympathetic wave of support. I don’t disagree that mental wellbeing is critical.

But it’s more complex than that. How did Biles’ decision impact her teammates? And what if another, low profile athlete made the same choice, and she did not receive the groundswell of support? And what if the whole concept of individuals pushing themselves to their absolute limits dreaming of beating the world turns out to be – on average – disastrous for the mental wellbeing of participants?

This week we had the news break of a former NZ Olympic cyclist who appears to have taken her own life. Australian Story is about Australia’s most successful basketballer – Luc Longley, and how being a professional sportsman made this laid back likeable guy hyper self-critical.

Two thoughts. Parents – think twice before you encourage your kids to be a world-beater. Second, ours is a culture that worships success, and sporting stars, knowing full well that the winning cup that many will drink from turns out to be a chalice full of poison.

Rev David Rietveld

Senior Minister


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