This year has been monumental in terms of the mental health of athletes. Frontrunners and star athletes have pulled out from the Olympic games  in the name of mental health which has received mixed responses from the public. Piers Morgan tweeted “Athletes are now deemed more inspiring and heroic if they lose or quit than if they win or tough it out...fuelling this culture of celebrating weakness.”


Many people have shared their opinions in this debate but who is better suited to provide a perspective than one of the young athletes themselves? I decided to ask Olakunle Adewole about his experiences as a young black athlete.


Olakunle spoke about how sports is one of the very few industries where your youth is when “You are physically at your peak” he also spoke about the pressures placed on young athletes 24/7. Saying, “The amount of discipline it requires is insane”  and not every individual is built for that kind of pressure. That begs the question, are we losing record  breakers because the pressure is too extreme? Is the world of athletics such a toxic environment we are ultimately losing out?


 Simone Biles withdrew from the Olympics after her aunt's unexpected passing. Simone went on later to compete and won a bronze medal. It could be argued that a mental break was exactly what she needed to earn a place on the podium. The passing of her aunt was not revealed until much later and many people found that they had been quick to judge. It can be easy sometimes to forget whilst watching a screen that an athlete is more than just entertainment but also, a human being.


Not long before the Olympics, tennis champion, Naomi Osaka had decided to skip press conferences at the Paris Open. She was later fined and released a statement addressing the situation “I have suffered bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018, and I have a hard time coping with that”, this sparked talks on the Severity of the response and the true necessity of press conferences after matches - Osaka then lit the Olympic torch to start the 2020 Olympic games.


Olakunle said "To really understand mental health you must first go through mental health struggles" but everyone goes through mental health struggles. The problem is that we cannot see the struggles of others. He says he is an 'advocate' for people choosing which questions they desire to answer during press conferences, acknowledging the unprofessionality of intrusive questions and the detrimental effects they can have on the athletes.


Olakunle expresses the added pressure placed on black athletes due to prejudiced opinions of ability and skill ' People see you as stronger, faster, even superhuman, you feel the pressure from parents and outside voices' in terms of mental health he says 'everyone has an opinion on how you should feel' this kind of pressure can make a career as an athlete extremely hard to pursue but over time his experiences have helped change his perspective: 'It’s no longer a competition but rather a journey to improve myself.'


It is great to see an open discussion on the mental health of athletes, especially on the worldwide stage of the Olympics and it is even better to see athletes come back stronger and healthier.


This year black athletes have gone on to make many strides in their profession,


After gaining her tenth medal, Allison Felix became the most decorated woman, Nafissatou Thiam won gold in the women's heptathlon, Peruth Chemutai became the first Ugandan woman to win an Olympic medal, and Kenya's Eluid Kipchoge continued to defend his Olympic marathon title and that is only the beginning. It was a year of many broken records as well as many firsts.


Noah Lyles debuted his Olympic career in Rio Olympics 2016. He’d been a vocal advocate of mental health care. He shared his own struggles, along with how he was coping without any anti-depressants; seeing both sports and personal therapists. In the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, he placed 3rd in the men’s 200m final. 


There’s no doubt that 2021’s Olympics have left an indelible mark on the viewers and athletes alike and will continue to be spoken about for many years to come as the word ‘sport’ expands beyond winning medals and becomes sportsmanship.