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Post-Olympics: The Atlantic Sees Psychological, Emotional Issues, but Not Spiritual Ones


The Atlantic meant well. Its post-Olympics feature examines the depression that athletes often suffer after such sports events, as they strive to cope with their futures and stress linked to big wins and big defeats.

It’s a literate, sympathetic piece, gently but incisively examining the emotional crash; the reluctance to ask for help; how intensely athletes identify with their achievements; how much they fear losing themselves by losing in competition.

Almost every angle is covered, it seems, but – you knew this was coming – the spiritual one. The story leaves Mount Olympus haunted with religious “ghosts.”

This is the kind of eloquent passage that makes me loathe to write off the article totally:

Take the Michigan-born swimmer Allison Schmitt. After winning five medals, three of them gold, and setting a world record in the 2012 London Games, Schmitt sank into a hole from which she couldn’t emerge. She had no idea why she felt depressed – especially considering her undeniable success – but realized she needed counseling. The decision didn’t come easily; depression is still a dirty word in the locker room.

“I didn’t want to show my weakness,” she said in an interview with Channel 4 in Detroit. “I didn’t want to ask for help, but in this situation I found out … that I couldn’t keep fighting it by myself. … There’s this thing that they call post-Olympic blues and I think I had a little bit of that and I kept isolating myself and isolating myself.”

The Atlantic also quotes sports psychologist Scott Goldman noting that the Olympics amount to a “hundred-mile-per-hour ride” that “comes to a screeching halt.” He says the sudden end leaves athletes “just physiologically depleted, as well as psychologically.”

Some past champions’ stories are also retold. Mark Spitz set seven records at the 1972 Olympics, but found it hard to function in any other job. And Taraje Murray-Williams retired from judo competition after the Beijing Olympics, although he was able to start a financial services business.

That’s the big take-away in this article: “Build an identity off the playing field.” Says Kristin Keim, another sports psychologist. “You have to separate the individual from the result.”

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