NZ Olympic cyclist’s death stirs debate on mental pressure

AUCKLAND, 11 Aug 2021:

The sudden death of young New Zealand Olympic cyclist Olivia Podmore has stirred debate in the country around the pressures of top-level competition and the mental welfare of athletes.

The 24-year-old represented New Zealand at the 2016 Rio Olympics and qualified – but was not selected – to compete at Tokyo 2020.

She died on Monday in the North Island town of Cambridge after posting a now-deleted message on Instagram about the demands of professional sports.

“The feeling when you win is unlike any other, but the feeling when you lose, when you don’t get selected even when you qualify, when your [sic] injured, when you don’t meet society’s expectations such as owning a house, marriage, kids all because your [sic] trying to give everything to your sport is also unlike any other,” Podmore wrote on Instagram on Monday afternoon, local media reported.

The death of the young athlete has sent shockwaves through the Oceanian country as close friends of the cyclist call for discussion and awareness of the mental health of athletes and the pressures they are under.

“We have lost a sister, a friend and a fighter, who lost that will of fight inside her,” former Olympic rower Eric Murray, a close friend of the New Zealander who was with her earlier Monday, told reporters yesterday.

“We’re seeing locally and around the world the implications of mental health in sport,” said Murray, recalling tennis player Naomi Osaka and gymnast Simone Biles who had recently withdrawn from top competitions – putting the spotlight on mental health in sport.

“Liv’s fight was the same, and we now have one statistic – and that is one statistic too many.”

Sport New Zealand CEO Raelene Castle yesterday said Podmore had reached out for support before her death and promised to “learn from the situation, and from Olivia, and make sure that her legacy is that we make improvements in the system.”

– EFE