These 7 Sports Stars Are Committed to Mental Health

LISTICLE | 07/29/2021
Antonia Wille

She was supposed to be the outstanding medal collector of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. But the US gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the team competition because of mental problems and also renounced the all-around final. The decision brought her a lot of respect - the sensitivity in dealing with mental problems among top athletes seems to have grown, as our examples show. Because Biles is by no means an isolated case. We show you 7 sports stars who have faced their problems and are committed to the topic of mental health.


Superstar Simone Biles

SIMONE BILES has brought what it takes to be a superstar at Tokyo 2020 to Japan. The 24-year-old gymnast was qualified for no less than six competitions, either alone or in the team. She could have won gold in all six competitions. With her four gold medals in Rio de Janeiro 2016, she could have become the most successful Olympian of all time. But in place of one of the sport's greatest chapters of success, Biles wrote a new chapter in the series of athletes who have pushed themselves to their limits mentally. "Physically, I feel good, I'm in shape," she told NBC after earlier pulling out of the team competition in tears. She is now said to be focusing on her mental health. She also stepped back from the individual finals to focus on her mental health. 


Swimming King Michael Phelps

MICHAEL PHELPS, at any rate, reacted deeply to Biles. Seeing her broke his heart, said the most successful Olympic starter of all time by far with 23 gold medals. The US swimmer is also in Tokyo, but for the first time not as a swimmer at the Olympics, but as a television pundit. Phelps struggled with depression early in his career. These only ever came out to the public indirectly - Phelps drove drunk, he was caught smoking pot. Phelps later admitted that he had suicidal thoughts. At 30, he said, he finally learned to talk. He told the Swiss newspaper Blick just before Biles went out, "I want to encourage more people to talk about what they're going through." I admit it: it saved my life."


Japan’s Tennis Hope Naomi Osaka

NAOMI OSAKA was the example case, which is why Phelps spoke out about his own mental illness once again this year. It was a "game-changer" that Japan's tennis superstar had been open about her depression with her social media reach o, Phelps thinks. Osaka, ranked No. 2 in the world in women's tennis, had dropped out of the French Open in late May, making her mental health issues public. According to the report, she has been suffering from depression since the US Open in 2018. The situation had escalated because Osaka did not want to talk to the press in Paris - she accused the media of having no regard for the mental health of athletes. The beauty of her case - the reactions to the move were expressions of encouragement. "I just want to thank you guys for all the love," she wrote on Instagram. It seemed promising when Osaka then reported back to compete at the Olympics. All of Japan was hoping for its tennis superstar - but the 23-year-old failed early and significantly. "I've never been to the Olympics before and I felt there was a lot of pressure on me here," Osaka said, explaining her failure. In doing so, she sounded more than helpless. She didn't know "how to deal with all the expectations, including my own, of course".


Hurdler Jackie Baumann

JACKIE BAUMANN might have competed for Germany in Tokyo in the 400 metres hurdles. Baumann was the German champion in the discipline in 2015 and 2016, and last year she was considered the favourite at the national championships at the time. But at just 24 years old, the daughter of 5000-meter Olympic champion Dieter Baumann ended her career a few days before the championships. She gave mental reasons for her decision, saying that she had not been able to enjoy competitions, but rather that they had put a strain on her and had had a negative effect on her mental health. In the end, she was no longer ready to withstand the pressure, she said at the time about her surprising step on Deutschlandfunk. "At some point you can't get out of the spiral, you're trapped in your own head." Sleep disturbances, rapid irritability, retching to the point of throwing up were her symptoms before competitions, she said. The problems became massive around her participation in the Olympic Games in Rio 2016 - Baumann escaped a repetition of this pressure in Tokyo by resigning.


Professional Cyclist Mark Cavendish

MARK CAVENDISH is an example for many professional cyclists who, under the pressure of having to win, reach or exceed their mental limits. The Briton is one of the biggest names in cycling. He won several stages in the Tour de France or the Giro d'Italia. He is one of the few names that means something to a wider public beyond cycling fans. Last year, he revealed that he had mental problems as well as physical ones. "It wasn't just my physical health that took a hit over the last few years. I've struggled quite badly with depression during that time," the now 36-year-old told British newspaper The Times last year. Cavendish got back up, however, and this year at the Tour he even took his 34th stage win and is now on a par with the legend Eddy Merckx. But more tests await Cavendish - after his career ended, a number of professional cyclists fell into mental problems, conspicuous by drug or alcohol abuse. The former Tour winner Jan Ullrich, who was responsible for one of the biggest doping scandals, fell into a burnout.


Germany's Footballer Per Mertesacker

PER MERTESACKER is probably the most prominent German footballer who made public the psychological problems that followed the pressure to perform. Shortly after his career ended, the 2014 World Cup winner told "Der Spiegel" in 2018 about how the pressure to perform literally hit him in the stomach. He had reacted before every game with nausea and diarrhea - "as if what comes next, symbolically speaking, is simply to vomit". He had been aware of his privileges. But "at some point you realize that everything is a burden, physically and mentally. That it's zero fun anymore, but that you have to deliver, no ifs, ands or buts." He didn't see injuries that forced him to sit out as drama, but as relief. "Because it's the only way to get a legitimate timeout, to be out of the grind," said the former Werder Bremen and Arsenal London defender.


Burnout with Ralf Rangnick

RALF RANGNICK is considered one of the most important masterminds in German football. He celebrated great successes as a coach as well as a sports director, most recently at RB Leipzig. Fans and critics called him "Professor" with a mixture of admiration and derision. Ten years ago, in September 2011, Rangnick caused an unprecedented resignation in the football business. "After long and careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that I need a break. My current energy level is not sufficient to be successful and, in particular, to advance the team and the club in their sporting development," the then 53-year-old Schalke 04 coach explained, adding that a burnout, or exhaustion syndrome, had led him to this decision. In June 2012, Rangnick returned to the business and has been working successfully there again ever since; in the meantime, he was considered a serious candidate for the position of national football coach.

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Antonia Wille
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