How Tokyo 2020 Olympians Made History For Global Mental Wellness

It doesn’t matter where on the spectrum of opinions you are when it comes to watching the Olympics. You could be all in for watching the Olympics, or you could be the opposite: comfortable doing your own thing without tuning into the Olympics. 

No matter the opinion you may have about the Olympics and athletes, there’s a consistent message and theme that’s happening with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. 

The impact actually started before the Olympics. 

Her name is Naomi Osaka.

It started back in May when professional tennis player Naomi Osaka tweeted to her followers her intentions to stay out of press conferences. She explained, “I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one. We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.”

On May 31, 2021, she made a post on Instagram regarding press conferences. She was in Paris for the French Open when she made the social media statement declaring she’d be bowing out of any press conferences and put her focus into training and self care.

Naomi’s Instagram post was a series of screenshots showing her own words, saying, "Hey everyone, this isn't a situation I ever imagined or intended. I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris."

She then opened up about struggling with mental health since the US Open in 2018 and since then has been coping while managing social anxiety. Naomi, however, knew that there would be consequences with this decision based on the rules in place for athletes. In the tweet that started this “power struggle”, Naomi acknowledges a penalty fine saying, “Anyways I hope the considerable amount that I get fined for this will go towards a mental health charity.”

"I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that,” the Instagram post on Naomi’s profile read. “I'm gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans."

Naomi Osaka was fined $15,000 for failing to appear at a press conference for the French Open. 

Fast forward to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Naomi Osaka showed her WW’s by lighting the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony. The buildup to this moment happened because of Naomi. She put her energy and focus into her self care and mental wellness

But Naomi isn’t the only Olympian who is sending the public and officials in a frenzy over “breaking rules” and prioritizing their wellness. 

Her name is Simone Biles.

Gymnast Simone Biles took the press by storm after withdrawing from the team competition during the ongoing Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Simone withdrew from the competition due to what was first reported as an injury of sorts, but was quickly clarified that Simone wasn’t participating in the individual women’s all-round due to mental health reasons.

The mental health reasons were vague but as the Olympics continued and social media interactions kept on trucking, it was determined that the mental health reasons? A case of what gymnasts call the twisties

This phenomenon is when a gymnast is extremely disoriented (to the point of blackout confusion) in the middle of a move or routine. This can be fatal. A case of the twisties means that Simone was faced with the decision to withdraw or move forward knowing the risk of permanent injuries should the twisties come on during the competition.

They’re Olympians, they’re Heroes. They’re also like You & Me.

The press and celebrity of the Olympics weighs heavily on athletes, to the point that people who don’t know them personally forget that they, too, are human.

Just think, at the age of 24, Biles put in the work and made it to the Tokyo Olympics as the profiled star of Team USA. The way that Biles and Simone both have been depicted in the media like criminals for putting their mental wellness first is the result of:

  • A society that didn’t emphasize the importance of self care & self love
  • The pressure to be perfect and our long history of putting athletes on pedestals
  • Double-standards 

….and more.

Caption: We need to set an example for future generations that it’s important to take care of yourself and not choose to please others at the expense of your health. (Credit: bklynishh)

Now? It’s Your Turn.

If the Tokyo 2020 Olympics taught us anything, it’s that we still have a long way to go fighting “self care is selfish” mentalities. At the end of the day, we want this strength of putting yourself first to be contagious after reading Naomi and Simone’s stories. 

One request: Choose You Today

(Credit: @my_life_aesthetic) 

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