The mental battles of the stars return to the fore

One after another they walked through the mixed zone at the Australian Swimming Championships and talked about their struggles. Some stories have been heartbreaking – stories of depression and eating disorders – while others have taken long breaks from sport, unsure whether they will ever return.

There were so many good stories at the Commonwealth Trials and the World Championships in Adelaide, but for swimming, a sport that took a toll last year as it underwent a review of his treatment of female athletes, it served as a timely reminder of the fragility of his star attractions.

Lani Pallister won the 800m freestyle at the Australian titles in Adelaide.Credit:Getty

Like many disciplines that depend on the Olympic cycle, the gap between highs and lows is huge. Competitors trade short periods in the brightest spotlight for long periods in the shadows. For some, the benchmark is a place on the podium, for others it’s simply teaming up.

Swimming, like most modern sports, is acutely aware of the importance of managing the mental well-being of athletes. It is integrated into their pathway programs and includes close collaboration with the Australian Institute of Sport, which has invested significant resources in the sector.

He has also partnered with Batyr, a mental health prevention organization that targets young people. The best high performance programs know that wellness and performance go hand in hand.

But disappointment, often overwhelming, is part of the DNA of elite sport. When years of work fail to yield the desired result, the descent can be rapid and the landing violent and alarming. On many occasions, the default setting is to find a way out on your own, instead of asking those around you for help.

Zac Incerti has always encouraged athletes to speak out about mental health.

Zac Incerti has always encouraged athletes to speak out about mental health.Credit:Delly Carr / S.A.L.

The good news is that athletes increasingly tend to be open about their experiences. With admirable candor, Elijah Winnington, the 400m freestyle favorite in Tokyo who couldn’t shoot, said he struggled a lot after the Games and went into a “semi-depression”.

But after working closely with psychologist Glen Fisher, with whom he spoke daily before and during testing, he returned to full fitness to complete the 400m-800m double and return to the big arena in the coming months. to come.