US swimmer urges media to stay away from defeated stars

Sports Tokyo 2020

USA's Simone Manuel speaks out on media interviews. AFP
USA’s Simone Manuel speaks out on media interviews. AFP

Tokyo, Japan | AFP

US Olympic swimmer Simone Manuel says athletes should not have to give media interviews immediately after losses because sports stars find them “mentally and emotionally exhausting”.

In the latest call to protect the mental health of athletes, Manuel said elite competitors “aren’t obligated to give people all of our soul” after posting poor results.

“Please stop interviewing athletes right after a disappointing performance before they have any time to process anything,” she tweeted. 

“Trust me. They gave it their all. Nothing else people need to know at that time.”

Manuel’s campaign in Tokyo did not go to plan after an outstanding Games in Rio -- where she won two gold and two silver, becoming the first Black swimmer to win an individual title in the Olympic pool.

The 24-year-old had to settle for a single relay bronze in Japan, holding back tears after she failed to reach the 50m final.

“I had the courage to go out there and try and possibly fail,” she told reporters.

Manuel said athletes risked being labelled “sore losers” if they refused to talk to media after a defeat, but they were often in no mental state to do so.

“Look at us as humans with emotions,” she said.

“It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting to coherently answer questions while trying to process the fact that people already saw you fall short of the goals you worked so hard for on the world’s biggest stage.”

Manuel revealed at the US Olympic trails in June that she battled heart rate spikes, insomnia, depression, anxiety and fatigue.

Her comments come after fellow American Simone Biles threw a spotlight on athlete mental health with her shock withdrawal from several gymnastic events she had been expected to win.

Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka, who along with Biles was a high-profile face of the Tokyo Games who struggled under pressure, has also questioned the media’s role in sport.

Osaka pulled out of this year’s French Open after refusing to meet mandatory media commitments, claiming they were detrimental to her mental health.

She likened the traditional post-match news conference at the Grand Slams to “kicking people when they’re down”.

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© Agence France-Presse

Tokyo 2020 AFP