The lessons top athletes are learning about stress and mental health can help us handle pressure in our own lives
It was going to be the Pandemic Olympics; the cheerless games that would inspire ambivalence at best. And then sport did its thing. Despite the lack of crowds and the looming threat of Covid, Tokyo was amazing. It also became something else: the mental health Olympics.
When Simone Biles pulled out of the gymnastics events, she brought an unprecedented focus on the psychological challenges of elite sport. One of the greatest athletes of all time had decided to prioritise her mind over the will – and enormous pressure – to win. “There is more to life than just gymnastics,” she said. After taking stock in a Tokyo gym, she returned to the beam event, taking a bronze medal in what might have felt like one of her biggest victories.
I’d be vomiting in the toilets before races, visualising myself in armbands, struggling to swim to the end of the pool
Ten years ago, athletes skirted around the issue, or blamed things like dodgy food to mask the reality of the situation