A former Olympian and a mental health coach discuss the difficulties athletes face
Three-time Olympic gold medalist Carrie Bates says she faced mental health issues and substance abuse issues after not making the 1988 Olympic swim team.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Other Olympians and fans have rallied around alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin after she was disqualified from two of her top events at the 2022 Beijing Games.
Shiffrin, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was disqualified within seconds from the giant slalom and slalom because she missed a gate in both events.
“I’ve never been in this position before,” she said in an interview after her slalom disqualification, “and I don’t know how to handle it.”
The back-to-back upheaval has opened another conversation about the mental battle that top athletes often face.
Three-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Carrie Bates knows the pressure. Now a resident of Oregon, Bates won her medals at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
“It makes me sad to hear the negative comments around the country that she can’t stand the pressure, that she broke under the pressure. Those things just aren’t realistic to say,” Bates said.
Last year, Shiffrin said she thought she would never ski again after the sudden death of her father, Jeff, who died two years ago from a serious head injury after an accident at the family’s Colorado home.
Other athletes like gymnast Simon Biles, tennis player Naomi Osaka and snowboarder Chloe Kim have also opened up about their mental health issues.
“It’s unfair to expect to be perfect, and I’m by no means perfect. But I think after my last Olympics I put pressure on myself to be perfect all the time and that would cause a lot problems at home,” Kim said in an interview after winning her second Olympic gold medal in the women’s halfpipe. “I would be really sad and depressed all the time when I was home and that’s not something…I was hurting the people I love the most by doing that.”
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As for Bates, she struggled with drug addiction after not making the 1988 Olympic swim team.
“The stigma towards mental health and substance use disorders is precisely what stops people from getting help, because they don’t want to be stigmatized for being a drug addict or an alcoholic or someone who is suffering. of their mental health,” Bates said.
Brian Baxter is a mental health performance coach and director of Amplify Sports Psychology in Portland. He said athletes should live in the moment and only focus on what they can control.
“What we find most helpful in sports psychology is really having a good balance,” Baxter said. “Get mindfulness training and stay present in the moment and really focus on what’s important in the moment.”
Baxter said athletes should limit their social media during high-pressure events.
“Don’t watch your Twitter feed, don’t read the comments section, have a support system behind your back that can tell you no, don’t do this and yes do this.” said Baxter.
RELATED: Shiffrin saw what Biles, other Summer Olympians went through